I’ve been hearing great things about Tanita Davis’s books ever since her first, Mare’s War, was published. But (confession time!) I haven’t actually read one until now. That will be changing, because I loved Peas & Carrots.
The story is a contemporary YA, set in California. It’s told in alternating chapters between Dess, whose chapters are in first person, and Hope, whose chapters are in third. It took me a little bit to settle into this style, but I think it does a great job of differentiating the two characters and their perspectives.
As the story begins, Dess is being placed with Hope’s family temporarily. They’ve been fostering her younger brother, Austin, and Dess asked to see him. She didn’t expect to leave the group home she was in and go live with this family. Hope, meanwhile, is used to having foster kids in her family, but never one so close to her own age.
Given how many children are part of the foster care system, it seems important to have stories that reflect their realities. There aren’t enough, but this is a wonderful addition. Davis’s family fostered kids when she was young and I think that experience shows in the depth and complexity of the characters she portrays here. This is a story that it would be easy to get offensively wrong, and while I can’t say definitively, it certainly read as a sympathetic and nuanced look at one situation.
I also appreciated that Dess is a character who has a lot of integrity, and yet isn’t perfect. She refused to let her grandmother take her in if she wouldn’t also take in Austin, who’s biracial. And yet, she also judges Hope and her family because they don’t meet her expectations of how African-Americans* should be. We also see her pushing back against assumptions and stereotypes: she’s a good student and gets along well with most people.
Hope was a bit less clear to me as a character, but I also really enjoyed her sections. She’s a bookworm and scifi fan and later we find out that she read and liked The Goblin Emperor (!!!)**. Dess certainly pushes her to face her own assumptions, and to take chances that Hope might otherwise pass by. Mostly I loved seeing the slow growth of a friendship between them, as both girls learn to value each other. This is done subtly, but it’s really effective and I think fits their personalities and situation.
While there definitely is some plot here, this is a book that’s primarily focused on characters, and it really shines in that regard. Even the more minor characters seemed fleshed out and considered. Since I tend to be a character-based reader, this worked really well for me.
All in all, this is a thoughtful, complex book about a subject that needs more reflections in fiction. I’m really glad it exists and that I read it.
Book source: public library
Book information: 2016, Knopf Books for Young Readers; contemporary YA
* this the term that’s used throughout the book, so I’m using it here
** Tanita Davis knows all the people I do online, so this isn’t really surprising but it was very fun!