black lives, middle grade, social-emotional

Middle Grade Must-Reads: Caprice

Caprice (Scholastic, Inc.)
Written by Coe Booth

When you read her first words, Caprice comes alive on the page. She’s a twelve-year-old girl on the cusp of significant changes in her life. Caprice’s parents pick her up after attending a summer program at the private all-girls school, Ainsley. She is offered a free ride by the school’s headmaster. There’s time to think it over, but not much as she returns to her neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey. Caprice spends time with her best friend Nicole, contemplating if she feels something more for her longtime friend Jarrett and deciding if she should go to Ainsley and leave all this behind. But something else weighs on Caprice, an experience from her early years has haunted the girl, and she’s kept it secret from everyone who loves her.

In the tradition of classics like Dear Mr. Henshaw, we get Caprice’s story as a series of journal entries and poems she writes down in her notebook. Instead of author Coe Booth telling us about the events as they happen, we get Caprice’s contemplations after the fact. The reader gets to see how Caprice processes some immense feelings, and I think that is vital for our children to see. You might see this as an excellent book for girls, but I argue it’s something boys should read too. The frustrations and fears Caprice feels reflect the way women & girls are still marginalized. It’s not just the big secret Caprice has kept. You have the boys at the community center grading the adolescent girls on their bodies as they head into the gym. The protagonist lives in a world like ours, where boys’ behavior is often excused as “being silly.”

Booth centers the sexual assault of Caprice as the novel central conflict. It’s never presented explicitly, but there’s no mistaking what happened to the girl. Booth also includes commentary on class, with Ainsley representing a separation from Caprice’s beloved community. In addition, there are health issues with Caprice’s maternal grandmother. Her estrangement from this grandmother goes back to that one night when Caprice was four. Booth captures the massive complexity of life that young people are experiencing right now, balancing the personal with the universal. For older elementary and especially middle schoolers, this is a contemporary text that demands to be read.

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