From beloved Newbery Honor winner and three-time Coretta Scott King Award winner Rita Williams-Garcia comes a powerful and heartfelt novel about loss, family, and love that will appeal to fans of Jason Reynolds and Kwame Alexander. Clayton feels most alive when he’s with his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd, and the band of Bluesmen—he can’t wait to join them, just as soon as he has a blues song of his own. But then the unthinkable happens. Cool Papa Byrd dies, and Clayton’s mother forbids Clayton from playing the blues. And Clayton knows that’s no way to live.
Armed with his grandfather’s brown porkpie hat and his harmonica, he runs away from home in search of the Bluesmen, hoping he can join them on the road. But on the journey that takes him through the New York City subways and to Washington Square Park, Clayton learns some things that surprise him.
National Book Award Finalist * Kirkus Best Books of 2017 * Horn Book Best Books of 2017 * Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2017 * School Library Journal Best Books of 2017 * NAACP Image Awards Youth/Teens Winner * Chicago Public Library Best Books * Boston Globe Best Books of 2017
"This slim novel strikes a strong chord."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"This complex tale of family and forgiveness has heart.” —School Library Journal (starred review)
"Strong characterizations and vivid musical scenes add layers to this warm family story.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“An appealing, realistic story with frequent elegant turns of phrase." —The Horn Book (starred review)
"Garcia-Williams skillfully finds melody in words.” —Booklist (starred review)
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.