cover image Clayton Byrd Goes Underground

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground

Rita Williams-Garcia. Amistad, $16.99 (176p) ISBN 978-0-06-221591-8

This slim novel strikes a strong chord. Clayton Byrd revels in playing the blues harp (harmonica) with his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd, and other blues musicians in New York City’s Washington Square Park, and he longs to play his own solo: “Twelve bars. That was all.” Cool Papa is Clayton’s favorite relative and ally, and his sudden death throws Clayton into an emotional spiral, especially as his mother’s unresolved feelings toward her father cause her to sell off his possessions. Newbery Honor–winner Williams-Garcia (One Crazy Summer) creates a memorable cast and sketches complex, nuanced relationships, especially between Clayton and his mother, contrasting Clayton’s closeness with his grandfather to the complicated absence of Clayton’s own father. Clayton’s grief causes dustups at school and church, and the stakes and tension rise considerably as Clayton meets a band of teenage subway performers, who get him to join their show then steal his grandfather’s treasured hat. It’s a holistic portrait of a family in pain, a realistic portrait of grief and reconciliation, and a reminder that sadness and loss are wrapped up in the blues. Ages 8–12. (May)