Sixth-grader Arlaina is excited to be taking care of her cousin Patrice’s bunny, now that Patrice and her family are moving to New York. On the other hand, Arlaina’s elderly teacher Mr. Matthews has been bringing her down all year. He makes her feel singled out: a joke made at her expense, an odd comment about her hair, or a reprimand for talking in class when he doesn’t chastise her best friend, Tina, who is also talking. Arlaina is Black, and Tina is white – could this be the reason? When an Egyptian girl named Nadia shows up in class one day, Mr. Matthews asks her about her headscarf in front of the class. Nadia takes immediate offence and impresses her fellow students with her scathing response. At recess, the children decide that enough is enough – they need to come up with a plan not only to draw attention to the situation, but also to make things better for the students who come after them.
Taylor’s narrative balances the weight of Arlaina’s struggles at school with the warmth of her family life at home and her quest to prove to her father that she can be a responsible caregiver to her new bunny (which seems to be growing at an alarming rate). Older elementary students will recognize the awkward behaviour around school crushes and the subtle, shifting politics of friendships, especially when a new and charismatic person enters the circle. Tina’s role in the story as the white girl who is Arlaina’s best friend is treated with the nuance it deserves. She clearly loves Arlaina, but sometimes Tina just doesn’t understand what her friend is experiencing.
Even the safe cocoon of Arlaina’s home is pierced by news from the outside world. A protest on television about police brutality against Black youth, and a serious conversation with her 13-year-old brother, Kyle, about how to behave if approached by police, drive home the very real dangers that lurk in society. In the end, the kids at Grover School are inspired to act and Taylor leaves readers with a sense that we have the power to make our voices heard, to stand up, and take a step toward change.