Newbery Contender: “The Shape of Thunder” by Jasmine Warga

Book review: The Shape of Thunder by Jasmine Warga (J fiction)

Jasmine Warga’s Other Words for Home received a Newbery Honor in 2020 for its honest, moving portrayal of the experiences of a young Syrian refugee whose outside perspective provides reflections of not just the Syrian civil war, but American culture. Warga’s latest, The Shape of Thunder, too, gives an honest, if painful, reflection of American culture that is deserving of 2021’s Newbery Award.

Cora misses her big sister Mabel terribly. Mabel was her best friend and the only other person in their small Ohio town who understood what it was like to be a child of the only Muslim immigrants around. Last November, though, Mabel was killed in a school shooting, and twelve-year-old Cora is still learning how to live with her grief and fear. As the one-year anniversary approaches, the pain only seems to get worse. Cora misses her former best friend, Quinn, too, but can’t admit it to herself. It was Quinn’s brother who killed Mabel.

Quinn misses Cora, and she misses her big brother, Parker. She misses who Parker was before he started isolating himself in his room, spending all of his time on his computer, and saying awful things about people like Cora’s family. She misses how things were before Parker did the worst thing a person can do. But Quinn believes she’s found a way that she can fix everything: she has reason to believe that time travel is possible. She needs the help of Cora’s scientific mind, though, for it to work.

The Shape of Thunder follows Cora and Quinn as they attempt go back to that fateful morning and repair what was destroyed. But, even more, this novel follows two families and their surrounding community as they continue to grapple in their own ways with the aftermath of a tragedy that has become all too familiar. Warga skillfully and delicately handles these heavy topics, demonstrating their immensity and complexity as experienced by two twelve-year-old girls.

The Shape of Thunder is the very definition of a Newbery Award-worthy book. Warga has developed an affecting portrait of modern American life that is not just a stunning contribution to children’s literature, but to American literature as a whole.

~ Ms. Louise

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