Do all youth think more than the adults of their lives imagine? Eleven-year-old Yolonda Blue—Yolonda Mae Blue, as her mother Josie calls her when displeased—has a butter-rich mental life, and most of her thoughts, whatever their quality, get some action. Her little brother Andrew is no less a thinker, and he converts his insight into music—sound pictures of real-life routines and events that listeners find stunningly accurate. If any of the adults with whom they interact knew them fully, their big adventure might be unnecessary. Until then, however, Yolonda and Andrew understand and value one another more than anyone else understands or values either of them. Andrew repays Yolonda's faith with a harmonica composition that tells his audience of her heroism, and this public honor, together with the clear success of her risky campaign to get Andrew's talent recognized, gives Yolonda the courage to correct some of her thinking and become a truer friend to a willing schoolmate.
Six years older and many dimensions larger than Andrew, Yolonda is expected to look after him. The better she does this and her many household routines, the better their mother, a young African-American widow whose policeman husband Deuce drowned, can concentrate on her job as a paralegal clerk. Even while her husband was alive, Josie Blue dreamed big for their children. Impressed with Yolonda's intelligence, if unaware of her cunning, she believes her daughter will achieve college degrees and a prestigious profession, perhaps becoming a great pianist. She also assumes that the right amount of tutoring and cajoling will make Andrew smart in exactly the same ways.
After her husband's death, Josie is determined to give their children a good chance of staying alive and doing well, and that means protecting them from the negative influences of big-city life. When, on the same day, she learns that her children's urban school had a shooting that left a boy dead and that a drug pusher there gave first-grader Andrew a packet of cocaine, she finds a new job in a small town of a neighboring state and moves the family there. Having thrived on the big city's cultural assets, Yolonda, a fifth grader, finds the small town boring. Worse, she soon learns that it, too, has "Dudes" who peddle illicit drugs to children. When they destroy her brother's dearest possession—the fine Marine Band harmonica that their father gave him when Andrew was a baby—she beats them up. This, and a fancy new hairdo from visiting Aunt Tiny, win her certain respect at the new school, if not actual friends.
Yolonda is disliked by her peers partly because she has turned away Shirley Piper, a schoolmate who was the first in Grand River to show her any kindness, wanting, in fact, to become her best friend. This story features children learning...
(The entire section is 1154 words.)