Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Black Brother, Black Brother

Rate this book
From award-winning and bestselling author, Jewell Parker Rhodes comes a powerful coming-of-age story about two brothers, one who presents as white, the other as black, and the complex ways in which they are forced to navigate the world, all while training for a fencing competition.

Donte wishes he were invisible. As one of the few black boys at Middlefield Prep, he feels as if he is constantly swimming in whiteness. Most of the students don't look like him. They don't like him either. Dubbed the "Black Brother," Donte's teachers and classmates make it clear they wish he were more like his lighter skinned brother, Trey. Quiet, obedient.

When an incident with "King" Alan leads to Donte's arrest and suspension, he knows the only way to get even is to beat the king of the school at his own game: fencing. With the help of a former Olympic fencer, Donte embarks on a journey to carve out a spot on Middlefield Prep's fencing team and maybe learn something about himself along the way.

240 pages, Hardcover

First published March 3, 2020

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Jewell Parker Rhodes

27 books1,348 followers
Jewell Parker Rhodes has always loved reading and writing stories. Born and raised in Manchester, a largely African-American neighborhood on the North Side of Pittsburgh, she was a voracious reader as a child. She began college as a dance major, but when she discovered there were novels by African Americans, she knew she wanted to be an author. She wrote six novels for adults, two writing guides, and a memoir, but writing for children remained her dream.

Now she is the author of seven books for children including the New York Times bestsellers Ghost Boys and Black Brother, Black Brother. Her other books include Paradise on Fire, Towers Falling, and the Louisiana Girls Trilogy: Ninth Ward, Sugar, and Bayou Magic. She has also published six adult novels, two writing guides, and a memoir.

Jewell has received numerous honors including the American Book Award, the National Endowment of the Arts Award in Fiction, the Black Caucus of the American Library Award for Literary Excellence, the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award for Outstanding Writing, and a Coretta Scott King Honor.

When she’s not writing, she’s visiting schools to talk about her books with the kids who read them, or teaching writing at Arizona State University, where she is the Piper Endowed Chair and Founding Artistic Director of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
2,709 (40%)
4 stars
2,869 (42%)
3 stars
972 (14%)
2 stars
131 (1%)
1 star
34 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,053 reviews
Profile Image for Reading_ Tamishly.
4,183 reviews2,241 followers
March 11, 2023
"No science fiction or fantasy is going to help me. I live in a too-real world."

(So, I read contemporary and non-fiction a lot instead. Just saying ☺️)

Well, with this book, the author has become my autobuy author! Yes, for me and to more books by the author!

The writing is awesome. It's heartbreaking from the very beginning. It describes well how a person of colour is being discriminated outside his family all the freaking time by those whose are supposed to be their well-wishers.

Damn the teachers and the school mates who make their lives hell. Because even breathing seems to be a crime for them.

I felt so bad yet at the same time could relate to what it means to be discriminated and isolated just because of the way you are.

The first ten percent of the book clutched my heart so bad. The rest is all about sports, training and discipline. I didn't expect the story to turn out this way but yes to the concept.

The story deals heavily with determination and hard work. This is a book I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to young readers.

The story represents well racism and discrimination, police brutality. Also, understanding parents and adults who don't know anything but want to terrorize young people in the name of authority.

I loved the positive vibes between the two brothers.

Happy reading!
Profile Image for Claude's Bookzone.
1,485 reviews192 followers
August 26, 2021
3.5 Stars

Well that was a quick and engaging book about identity and finding your place.

I thought the audiobook was well narrated and am pleased to have found another sports focused book with a male protagonist. This will be a good one for NZ Year 9 novel studies as it examines at a few very topical issues about race and equality. A great addition to the library.
Profile Image for Mary Lee.
2,931 reviews55 followers
December 24, 2019
With the private school setting, Jewell Parker Rhodes can explore yet another layer of racism -- the bubble of privilege created by wealth. This is privilege shared by the main characters, two bi-racial brothers, one who presents white and one who presents black. They live in a big house in a swanky neighborhood and have all the trappings of wealth (the "right" clothes, shoes, Beats headphones, etc.). But the bubble of privilege also protects the white bully and the system that provides different sports opportunities (fencing) for private school students.

Rhodes explores the different ways the brothers are treated, based on looks alone, in a variety of settings (some racial, some economic, some both), as well as the family dynamics of a mixed race family.

I learned lots about fencing, and I loved the coach/mentor relationship and how both mentor and mentee learned and grew.
Profile Image for Laura Gardner.
1,669 reviews108 followers
October 1, 2020
Nothing makes me happier than a really good ARC from an author I trust to make me think and feel and reflect. Put Black Brother, Black Brother on your pre-order lists; this amazing #mglit book by @jewellparkerrhodes comes out in March of 2020. (sharing w/#kidlitexchange today!)

This powerful book addresses prejudice, colorism, and bullying for a middle grade audience and also manages to weave in a theme of tenacity in a sports narrative. As Donte's fencing coach says, "...it's not just about the bout. It's about leadership, giving respect. Patience and control." As with many sports, the lessons Donte learns in fencing will help him overcome other obstacles in his life.

Donte and his brother Trey are biracial; their mom is Black and their dad is white. While Trey presents as light-skinned and can pass as white, Donte is Black and is dubbed "Black Brother." Both boys attend a prestigious private school in Massachusetts where Donte is relentlessly bullied by a white, privileged boy named Alan. When Alan gets Donte in trouble and the incident leads to an arrest and suspension, Donte decides to get revenge by beating Alan at his sport: fencing. Donte learns to fence thanks to the help of a former Olympian at the Boys and Girls Club. He falls in love with the sport, both the physicality of it and the mental game it entails. By the time he does get his bout with Alan, he's a different person, inside and out. Winning is no longer the most important thing.

Black Brother, Black Brother is a must-buy book of 2020 for grades 4+. It would be a wonderful book for book clubs or a read aloud, particularly for classes that enjoyed reading aloud Ghost Boys. There's so much to talk about with this book -- how bullying doesn't really end with middle school (yes, there are adult bullies, too), how sports help us grow and change, and the effects of institutional racism. Students will also learn a lot about the sport of fencing. Occasional short chapters like "Parry," "The Strip" and "Riposte" help familiarize readers with the terminology.

#middleschoollibrarian #middleschoollibrary #library #librarian #futurereadylibs #iteachlibrary #bookstagrammer #bookstagram #librariesofinstagram #librariansofinstagram #librariesfollowlibraries #librarylife #librarianlife #schoollibrarian #middlegrade #middlegradebooks #iteach #librarylove #booksbooksbooks #amreading #bibliophile #schoollibrariansrock #bookreview #bookrecommendation #igreads #malibrary #msla #mediaspecialist
Profile Image for Nev.
1,026 reviews132 followers
June 1, 2020
Donte and his brother Trey both go to the same private, predominantly white middle school. But they get treated very differently than one another. Though they both have one Black parent and one white parent, Trey is much lighter skinned and almost passes for being white while Donte’s skin is darker. Donte is picked on by his classmates and accused by teachers and the administration for things he didn’t do. The book opens with the principal calling the police and having Donte arrested for no reason.

This Middle Grade book talks about the school to prison pipeline and how young Black students are more likely to have police called on them than their white counterparts. It also addresses racist bullying and stereotypes.

Another part of the plot is Donte wanting to learn how to fence to compete against and hopefully take down one of his bullies. It’s a personal preference thing, but I tend to get a little bit bored in sports books when there’s way too much time spent on play by play scenes of practices and matches. I think using a sport to show Donte learning to stick up for himself and confront a bully works well, but for my taste there were too many tedious sports scenes.

I think this is a really strong Middle Grade book. It covers important, relevant topics that will represent things younger readers are going through or will help them understand people outside their own experience.
Profile Image for Emma.
273 reviews13 followers
July 25, 2020
This is actually well written at the sentence level, with quick and engaging chapters suitable for the middle grade audience. It starts off as if it is going to delve poignantly into a cultural commentary centered around the story of two biracial brothers, one with lighter skin and one with darker skin, who are treated differently based on the difference in skin color. In this post-George Floyd era (interesting to note that this was published before George Floyd was murdered, so obviously these issues have been happening for a long time), I was really excited to see how a middle-grade novel would tackle issues of systemic racism, the school-to-prison pipeline, socioeconomic inequality, etc.

But then Donte meets his former-Olympian now humbly working at a Boys and Girls Club of America coach and begs him to train him, and after the scene where the coach gives him a lot of gruff "No thanks, kid" but then is eventually won over by Donte's grit and perseverance, I knew exactly how the rest of the book was going to go. It's the plot of every underdog sports movie and book there is. The plot became so formulaic that I had a hard time getting through it. Sometimes I think it is helpful for younger readers to have formulaic plots to help them boost comprehension of complex themes, but as soon as the plot became formulaic all those hoped-for themes from the beginning went out the window. Even the subplot of the impending court battle was over in one scene, without much discussion or effect on the lives of the characters.

I do think the fencing was handled well and that Rhodes brought the readers along well as she introduced a sport that I'm assuming many are not familiar with. I also liked that the sport of fencing was used as a blueprint for Donte as he learned to navigate the waters of dealing with racist characters. And the facts about Alexander Dumas and the Count of Monte Cristo at the end were interesting. I think middle schoolers would really like this book and I would heartily recommend it to them, but for me as an adult reader it was a disappointment.
Profile Image for  ⛅ Sunny (sunnysidereviews) ⛅.
305 reviews113 followers
July 8, 2021
3.25 stars!

What I Liked
-The talk of racism/the contrast between Trey and Donte
-The brotherly love!
-Zara!!! She's awesome.
-Kids can learn a lot about fencing through this book

What I Disliked
-The writing felt more like a rough outline rather than a final copy
-The pacing
-It was a bit too cliché for my taste

More like this on https://sunnysidereviews.wordpress.com/
Profile Image for Bethany Parker.
240 reviews18 followers
January 23, 2020
I adore Jewell Parker Rhodes. She creates quick-paced diverse novels allowing students to learn about social issues in a digestible way. It's no Ghost Boys, but there are a lot of students I'd recommend this to.
Profile Image for The Nerd Daily.
720 reviews344 followers
April 12, 2020
Originally published on The Nerd Daily | Review by Jeanette Zhukov

“Contradictions rattle, hurt my mind. (Be tough. Don’t be tough. Don’t be tough, get bullied. Be black, tough can get you killed.)”

Award-winning and bestselling author, Jewell Parker Rhodes, captivates audiences with her new emotionally driven story about a young black boy that faces discrimination, while also discovering the importance of community and friendship. Black Brother, Black Brother is a middle-grade novel that looks at the protagonist’s ability to establish his own identity while facing bullying and racial prejudice.

Desperate to be invisible, Donte Ellison is not. As the new kid at his private school, Middlefield Prep, he is seen and judged for the colour of his skin, while also being constantly regarded with suspicion and harassed. His classmate and primary bully, Alan, taunts him by chanting and calling him “black brother.” On the other hand, his brother, Trey, is lighter skinned and presents as white. While Trey and Donte are both biracial, Trey is the popular kid that is accepted by his peers and teachers.

Rhodes’s narrative opens with Donte being accused for throwing a pencil during class. It quickly escalates to the police being called and Donte subsequently arrested. This unjust incident eventually leads Donte to take a stand against Alan and his bullying. The plan that Donte establishes is to learn and challenge Alan at fencing. What ensues is a journey of the self where Donte learns the importance of his family and community, of the power of forgiveness, and of embracing his identity.

The novel is written through the eyes of Donte in first person point-of-view. While Donte’s thoughts fill the page, his point-of-view is quite expressive and verges on poetic. Emotions are exposed unabashedly as the reader gains insight to Donte’s perception of the world. As Donte’s perspective is able to highlight injustices that happen in the everyday, the result is that difficult issues and topics are presented in a digestible format for a younger audience. Rhodes shares universal messages of acceptance and friendship, but she also focuses in on other important issues like racism and the school-to-prison pipeline. Rhodes brings up these topics and explores them, while seamlessly interweaving them to be part of the compelling and, ultimately, heartwarming story.

Though the novel deals with difficult subjects, Rhodes still is able to maintain a sense of fun and joy through her depiction of certain relationships and in her inclusion of fencing. The positive relationships in Donte’s life are strong and moving. The characters that are portrayed in these relationships are dynamic and have clear motivation for their choices. Fencing, another main highlight of the novel, quickly becomes a safe haven for Donte and allows for a space where he can build-up confidence. Rhodes presents a well-researched depiction of the sport, and is able to connect her descriptions of fencing with the various interactions and interior struggle that is portrayed throughout the work.

While essentially a middle-grade novel, Black Brother, Black Brother is an enjoyable read for all ages because Rhodes creates a lasting impact, but for young readers, she presents complex and real-life situations in a way that is still incredibly hopeful. Overall, through its enthralling storytelling and characters, Black Brother, Black Brother will hold your attention, open the door for discussion, and maybe even teach you something new.
Profile Image for Mary Thomas.
377 reviews12 followers
January 28, 2021
Another great middle grade novel from Jewell Parker Rhodes! This would be excellent paired with Proud by Ibtihaj Muhammad. Highly recommend for grades 4-7.
Profile Image for Maria.
489 reviews316 followers
June 1, 2022
4.5 stars!!!

This book was so good! I love the message and that this can be read by any age group. This book has a lot to say about racism, stereotypes, and the power of teamwork. Highly recommend!
Profile Image for akacya ❦.
844 reviews134 followers
December 3, 2021
Donte is one of the few Black boys at his school. His older brother, Trey, is white-passing and much more popular than him. When one classmate, Alan, leads to Donte being wrongfully arrested, Donte knows he has to beat him at his own game through a fencing competition.

This was a very quick read and easy to understand, making it perfect for middle grade-aged readers (its intended audience). In addition to the discussions of race and racism, this book talks a lot about fencing, as a good portion of the book deals with Donte training to beat Alan. Donte’s fencing coach and teammates were all awesome! I do wish his relationship with Trey was explored more, though.
Profile Image for Valarie Graham.
50 reviews2 followers
June 20, 2020
I found this book implausible and predictable. It could have been so much more clever. The 'fencing is like life' was the best part of the book. The racism in this book was far too simple. Olympian Ibtihaj Muhammad came out of an urban fencing program in NYC. Alan would have had a reason to hate Donte if he had already been a fencer, maybe not even a good fencer, but enough to make Alan worry. Also, I cannot imagine any parent who would send their child back to any school, particularly an expensive private school, after being severely mistreated by the administration. Who would have their child face the humiliation of returning to a place where he had been escorted out of building in front of other students in handcuffs? The rest of the story could have taken place at the Boys and Girls club. If they had just let me edit this one...

Other things that struck me wrong: The protagonist is the darker child of a mixed-race couple. Their older son was born with a fair complexion and features like the father. The second child appeared ethnically Black. I don't think the couple would name the child Donte, with that spelling. It makes him sort of an ethnic target. A mixed-race couple in NYC knows better. It would have been smart for the author to name him Dante, which would demonstrate the mother's level of education, but it has the same auditory quality. Also, the author makes a big deal out of the father being of Norwegian background but then gives the family the name Ellison, and it is not even in the top 10 Norwegian surnames (I Googled). If she had thought about it more, a character named Dante Andersen would have been better and not ethnically identifiable in the easy way of Donte Ellison. The name itself is not a significant component of the story, but it is subtle things like this that make the difference between a book that is okay and a book that is good for me as a reader.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for vanessa.
972 reviews150 followers
May 10, 2020
I really enjoyed many things about this novel: the fencing, the mentorship, and the discussion about the school-to-prison pipeline. Something about it didn’t personally hit me emotionally and it kind of felt like the plot and characters were following a laid out procedure.
Profile Image for Jay DeMoir.
Author 14 books54 followers
May 19, 2020
Read in a day! Great novel! Donte and Trey are biracial brothers and this book touched on what it's like to be a black boy in a "White Person's world" and navigate it. I really loved the POV and story! Can't wait to share with my students.
Profile Image for Gabriel.
121 reviews94 followers
January 9, 2022
I find that the story was rushed a bit, I should have expected that given that it is middle grade but despite that it is still a great book.
Profile Image for Phil J.
697 reviews53 followers
July 4, 2020
This is the first Newbery contender this year that I liked enough to finish.

Rhodes does a great job of leading with a strong hook and moving the action with well-written dialogue and short chapters. The book is pretty lean and there's not a lot of excess material here.

I was disappointed that the very real situation of a student getting arrested over nothing was followed up by a cheesy Karate Kid rehash. It was a trope bonanza, and it totally undermined the seriousness of the first couple chapters.

I do not find this book distinguished, and I hope to find a better candidate for the 2021 Newbery.
Profile Image for lucy  Ü.
136 reviews10 followers
September 17, 2020
i dont really know what to say about this book.
i guess the only thing i really have to say is that racism does unfortunately exist and is something some people can't seem to be able to move past.

as a teacher, it broke my heart seeing how an education system failed a child through their own cultural bias and blindness. how they simply could not see past color and they could not see the individual child. and it still breaks my heart how there are some children and people who simply feel like they'll always be on the outside and will always be seen as different.

this book shows though how you can fight back. how you can push back against the norms if you have that resiliency and grit to simply get through and not allow those comments or assumptions or chaos surrounding you bring you down.
Profile Image for Dawn Foster.
468 reviews5 followers
March 30, 2020
While I have enjoyed other books by Rhodes, this one isn't one of them. I'm not sure why I felt disinterested in the characters or disconnected from the story itself, or why I felt no emotion for the either. This is a book I just couldn't "get in to" although there were interesting moments as when the author awkwardly inserts information about Alexandre Dumas' heritage. While it was interesting I felt it was forced & didn't exactly fit into the story in an organic way. While it WAS interesting to learn (and I'm not sure if I even knew Dumas was biracial & HIS stories were based on his own mixed race father's experiences), I still felt as if it was just plopped into story. I would give this book a C+.
Profile Image for kendraahampton.
88 reviews4 followers
May 25, 2020
Eh. I’m disappointed. Not so much in the book itself, but me. I assumed I’d enjoy this a lot more than I did. To begin, I was hoping for more on the race relations. This books seemed to focus more on the sport of fencing. Additionally, the story was more plot driven than character driven. I can understand why, so I’m not upset. The book’s target audience is middle schoolers so I know plot is used to keep their attention. Ultimately, I think I was just the wrong person to read this. I would still recommend to people though it was not exactly for me.
Profile Image for CR.
2,796 reviews27 followers
March 23, 2020
This book really made me feel like this was a book about family. This story shows you two different boys one who presents as black and one that presents as white and how each is treated within their community. It was definitely different but, this story was beautifully written and I could not put it down.
Profile Image for Shae.
173 reviews2 followers
April 30, 2020
I’m ecstatic to be able to share this with students and colleagues! This book is needed for so many reasons. Great story about being the best you possible even in the face of blatant bias. You’ll get a sense of family, friendship, determination, and doing the right thing even when it is hardest thing you’ve ever done!
Profile Image for Carmel.
915 reviews13 followers
February 3, 2021
This book is one you have to read to the end to appreciate fully. (I assume that's usually how books work in general, but...this one has a great ending).

It starts out with an interesting premise: biracial brothers who go to the same fancy school and have very different lives because of how they look, or because of what people assume about them.

I love that this book revolves around fencing (what?!? fencing!) because it is so far outside of my circle of knowledge. And yet the last few chapters are where Rhodes breaks down the idea of fencing as a "white-person sport" and showcases not only the many people of color who are currently fencing, but the many people of color who have done amazing things in the past (omg, Dumas!).

The last part of this book really revolves around two amazing things: identity and heritage. As our main character begins to see himself, he starts to get a deep understanding of who he is and what that means to him. His coach/mentor talks about missed opportunities in his life, and the times that others refused to see him. There was a line (paraphrased) about how, as a fencer in the 70s, he felt defined by other people's views of him. Our protagonist goes on to define himself for himself, along with a list of identity markers (I am a son. I am a friend. I am a teammate. I am a brother.). It is absolutely stunning.

Rhodes ends the book with an incredibly powerful (yet middle-grade) introduction to the idea of heritage and ethnicity over race. As the school prepares for their first annual "Heritage Day," she encourages readers to celebrate their heritage while taking a step back from the idea of race. I absolutely love the idea of celebrating who we are and where we come from without relying on skin color to define us.

KUDOS to the author and her team in producing this book. It is a must-read.

highly recommended.
Profile Image for Natalie.
2,784 reviews132 followers
November 23, 2021
There was a lot I loved about this book.

Two brothers who have the same parents but look different. Their mother is black and their father is white. Trey looks similar to his father and Donte looks similar to his mother. This book highlights how they're treated differently at their mostly white, fancy private prep school.

I was horrified, yet not shocked when it described how Donte was treated at the school. (This happens in the first chapter so I don't consider it a spoiler.) They called the POLICE when Donte threw his backpack on the ground! That's insane to me. At a school in my community, a 6th grader threw a desk at the teacher and broke her leg. They barely even suspended that kid. I wish I could say that I don't believe something like what happened could ever happen but the past two years especially have taught me differently. It sucks that people like Donte's school officials walk around with these twisted beliefs, whether they realize it or not.

I loved Donte's family. They were my favorite part of the story. They had such great relationships. I love how they all stood up for one another.

Donte's thoughts about being in prison and what that did to his psyche and what it made him think about himself broke my heart. It made me think about all the kids who end up in that exact same situation but don't have families fighting for them.

Surprisingly, I even liked the fencing. I'm not a big sports fan but the fencing was interesting and didn't overwhelm the story.

Great book! The narrator did a nice job on the audiobook.
Profile Image for Kelley Kimble.
345 reviews5 followers
January 15, 2022
A Steph Curry recommendation. A story of two biracial brothers, one dark and one light, and the way they experience the world of a private school. Highlights just how much skin color still matters even though the boys have the same parents. Enlightening. And I thoroughly enjoyed a peek into the discipline of fencing. Mind and body.
39 reviews7 followers
January 26, 2022
Jewell Parker Rhodes, wow. This story gives insight on the cruel world fueled by injustice and racism. A reminder to all what it means to be yourself and to be represented. A story that my students now and in the future need .
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,053 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.