In this sentimental and impassioned novel by Mariama J. Lockington (For Black Girls Like Me), two Black girls raised in very different ways spend four weeks at a summer camp for musical prodigies.
Thirteen-year-old Andi went to live with her Aunt Janine and Uncle Mark last September, after her mom died in a car accident. Andi is a trumpet player with a good ear who likes "to feel [her] way around to the right notes," but she's less than thrilled when Aunt Janine enrolls her in a month-long summer music program. At Harmony Music Camp, her cabin is full of returning campers: a group of frighteningly talented white girls and the only other Black girl at camp, 12-year-old Zora. Outgoing, bubbly Zora, a flautist, begins to tutor Andi in reading sheet music; as Zora teaches Andi to find balance and structure, Andi teaches Zora to let loose and have a little fun. The bond between the girls gently develops into a sweet summer romance.
Lockington's dual perspectives allow readers to deep dive into her complex and layered characters. Andi deals with grief and the overwhelming feeling of never being good enough; Zora feels suffocated by her perfect image. Lockington skillfully and delicately incorporates into her middle-grade romance anxiety, self-harm, coming out as LGBTQ+, microaggressions and the reality of how difficult life can be for children of color. In the Key of Us ultimately sends a message of hope and freedom that underlines the importance of children and teens letting the world see them for who they really are. --Kharissa Kenner, children's librarian, Bank Street School for Children