Grown – by Tiffany D. Jackson

 Grown – by Tiffany D. Jackson, Katherine Tegen Books (an imprint of HarperCollins), 9780062840356, 2020 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Realistic fiction

What did you like about the book?  Jackson takes on the real life crimes of R. Kelly in this book, fictionalizing the singer as Korey Fields. In a twist, the story is a first-person narrative, told epistemological-fashion by 17-year-old Chanty (Enchanted), who has fallen into the rapper’s twisted web. And it’s all set into the framework of a murder mystery, complete with flashbacks. Chanty longs to become a singer and Korey capitalizes on this drive after seeing her perform at an American Idol-style tryout. Korey tricks her loving but distracted parents into signing away any protections and before long, Chanty becomes a prisoner, drugged and subject to sexual abuse. She finally breaks free, but in a climactic scene, finds herself back in Korey’s penthouse, lying in pools of blood (the opening chapter of the book).  Who killed Korey? This book is disturbing, but compulsively readable. I loved the literary allusions to The Little Mermaid, both the Disney version and the original Andersen version.  The frank dissection of social attitudes toward girls of color and their bodies, toward the sexualization of Black teens and the vulnerability of Black women is both timely and needed. Gorgeous cover art make this book eye catching and extensive trigger warnings will allow readers to decide if this is the book for them.  All of the main characters in the novel are Black; Chanty’s best friend Gab identifies as Latina.

Anything you didn’t like about it? I loved Jackson’s earlier novel Allegedly, with its echoes of Patricia Highsmith and unreliable narrator. This book tries to use some of those same literary conventions, but is not nearly as successful. If I were the editor, I would have asked Jackson to strip those parts out and focus more on character development, especially of Chanty’s parents. Frankly, I found their behavior unbelievable. They have high expectations for their children and have sacrificed mightily to provide access to private schools, but allow Chanty to drop out and live with a rapper? No way. It was way too contrived. 

To whom would you recommend this book?  Clearly, this is not a book for everyone. It’s very dark and scary. But some teens request and love these kinds of heavy stories, just like adults, and this one does come with absorbing questions about societal perceptions of Black girls and the free pass given to powerful men. Grades 9 and up — I don’t think it would be a good fit for a middle school library. 

Who should buy this book? High schools and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? YA

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? I would say no, but if you are considering a purchase and anticipate pushback, I would advise pre-reading.

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: March 23, 2021

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