A Good Kind of Trouble centers around Shayla, a 12-year-old girl beginning junior high with her two best friends. The main focus of the story is the fact that–as so often happens in those middle years–Shayla is seeing her friendships, her perceptions of others and the world around her change from the comfortable and familiar to the more complex relationships that develop as we grow into adolescence. This is primarily expressed through the changing dynamic Shayla experiences with her two best friends, Isabella and Julia, and her growing awareness (both confusions and convictions) of her place in society as a young black person.
Shayla has two best friends: Julia and Isabella. At the beginning of the book she describes their friendship like this:
We are alike in everything that matters. We call ourselves the United Nations, because Isabella is Puerto Rican and Julia is Japanese-American, and then there’s me–and yes, we know Black isn’t a nation, but we also know we are united.
As the girls start junior high, Shayla notices that Julia is not always choosing to spend her free time with just Isabella and her; sometimes she sits with a group of girls from her Asian basketball league and her church. Shayla reflects back to the beginning of the school year:
…I told her I wanted it to be just us–the United Nations. What I didn’t say was that I felt awkward with Isabella and me being the only girls there who weren’t Asian, because it seemed like the wrong thing to say even if it was true.
Widening our social groups is a normal development as we move from elementary school to middle/junior high, and again from junior high to high school, and high school to college. But it can be a difficult change navigate for many of us. As the number of people in the social groups in which we interact grows we also begin to be aware of so much more of the world outside of ourselves. While many things about this change are exciting, they can also be scary and it can sometimes make you feel sad to realize you are leaving a time in your life when things felt more comfortable and clear-cut. Ramee does an excellent job of conveying all these conflicting thoughts and feelings through Shayla.
While Shayla is trying to manage the changes happening in her friendship with Julia and Isabella, she also finds herself open to forming new friendships with people she hadn’t considered before now. At the same time all of this is going on, the reader discovers that there is currently a trial in progress of a police officer who shot and killed a young black man. Shayla doesn’t really understand why her parents and older sister seem to be so stressed out about the trial itself; she knows there is video of the police officer shooting the victim as he walked away from her and therefore cannot conceive of anything other than a ‘guilty’ verdict. Her sister, Hana, is involved with the Black Lives Matter movement and Shayla finds herself increasingly curious about the Movement, what it is and how it fits into the events in her city–as well as how it is related to her own life.
The dual-pronged approach to Shayla’s story is significant in that it allows each reader the opportunity to identify with Shayla. Growing up is hard in so many ways and Shayla captures so much of the struggle to manage new ideas and interactions and grow into the people we want to become. The parallel story of the trial and the Black Lives Matter Movement offer readers whose experience is vastly different from Shayla’s the opportunity to see a current social justice and humanitarian issue from a perspective they would not otherwise have.
A Good Kind of Trouble is extraordinarily well-written and perfectly paced. The characters are fully formed and absolutely believable. I now work primarily with students ages 12-15 and I see many of their struggles reflected in Shayla’s experience. A Good Kind of Trouble is a great choice as either a read-aloud or independent read. If you have a child/student choosing it as an independent read, know that Shayla’s story is an excellent way to introduce conversation about race–in particular the Black Lives Matter Movement. A Good Kind of Trouble has the potential to make a huge difference in the lives of its readers–I know it has enhanced my personal understanding and perspective of a deeply troubling issue and how I might be able to help effect change where we often feel powerless to make a difference.