In free-verse narratives, one biblical and one modern, teenagers Ishmael and Sam introduce themselves and relate their parallel problems with their fathers. Abraham is exiling Ishmael, son of his Second Wife, now that elderly Sarah has finally had a son. Sam’s dad has left Sam’s mother for a younger white woman. In Book One, Ishmael’s poems express his pain, confusion, and love: Half Chaldean./Half Egyptian./Half slave./Half free./Half loved./Half hated./Half blessed./All me. His story is set against the background of nomadic desert life, always in the context of God’s relations with, and plans for, him. Book Two gives present-day Brooklynite Sam his say: black man breaks/black woman’s heart/to marry white witch. He’s angry at his father, baffled by his mother, and resistant to his stepmother’s friendly overtures. Luckily he has friends and faith; prayer and a kiss from a potential girlfriend provide some peace. The biggest obstacle turns out to be the biggest help: his dad’s new son worms his way into his half-brother’s heart. Books Three and Four continue the first-person accounts: Abraham’s second son is clearly his favorite, and Sarah (a witch here) withdraws her love from Ishmael. Anger and jealousy threaten Ishmael’s relations with his father and with God. Sam’s father leaves him disillusioned and betrayed. The cross-play is effective, though Sam’s story is more vivid and engaging. References to God (not Jesus) layer another father into the mix. Religion is a key part of the healing, but even faith-challenged readers can admire and learn from these stories of struggle in vernacular verse.
Nikki Grimes began penning poetry at the age of six. Her many award-winning titles include the picture books Talkin’ About Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman, which won the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award and a Coretta Scott King Author Honor, and Meet Danitra Brown, which won a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor. Coretta Scott King Author Honors went to her novels The Road to Paris, Jazmin’s Notebook, and Dark Sons, and her novel Bronx Masquerade won the Coretta Scott King Author Award. She lives in Corona, California.