Reviews for Attack of the black rectangles

Publishers Weekly
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Pennsylvania sixth graders battle classroom censorship in this uplifting middle grade novel by King (The Year We Fell From Space). At Independence Elementary, Mac Delaney and his friends Denis, who’s loyal and has anxiety, and Marci, an outspoken feminist, are outraged to discover that someone has used “ugly black rectangle” to expurgate classroom copies of Jane Yolen’s historical novel The Devil’s Arithmetic. The trio suspects their teacher, Ms. Sett—she’s always writing letters about banning junk food or insisting that local homes be painted white “to maintain the look of history”—so they show the selectively redacted text to their principal. Dr. McKenney also dismisses their concerns, however, making the kids even more determined to fight for the right to the “whole truth.” Their campaign inspires some students to publicly discuss aspects of their lives, including a girl who reclaims her non-Anglicized name. But Mac struggles with internalized shame, secretly fearing he’ll turn out like his callous, erratic father, a fear kindly explored by his keenly drawn Vietnam War veteran grandfather. King empathetically tackles the intersections of multiple sensitive topics—mental health, patriarchy and sexism, war’s realities, whitewashed history—while educating readers on the power of protest and the benefits of living with grace. Protagonists cue as white. Ages 9–12. Agent: Michael Bourret, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. (Sept.)

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

In Printz Award–winning King's latest poignant, humorous, and bright middle-grade novel, she searingly writes about the different ways censorship can impact the freedom to read. Sixth-grader Mac Delaney is aghast to find black rectangles all over his copy of a Jane Yolen novel about the Holocaust, and when he and his friends seek out the source, they discover the terrors of bureaucratic school boards and adults who treat kids like they are dumb. Whip-smart, tuned in to the mind of sixth-graders, and beautifully concluded, the novel takes a bold stand in a time of book bans and rampant censorship but does not go the traditional route of outright bans and empty shelves; rather, it's individual words that are being censored. Young readers will leave inspired to stand up and protest in their own lives and to be more like Mac, Marci, and Dennis in speaking up, even when their own lives are complicated. Against the backdrop of family issues, first crushes, and the end of elementary school, this is a beacon of hope for middle grades and an object lesson in treating kids like the intelligent readers they are. Perfect for fans of Avi's classic Nothing but the Truth and Alan Gratz's Ban This Book (2017).

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Sixth graders stand up against censorship and systemic bias. Mac Delaney wants to recognize the unvarnished truth, whether he’s wondering about how many Declaration of Independence signers owned slaves, embracing Indigenous land acknowledgments at the dinner table, or questioning blacked-out words in classroom copies of Jane Yolen’s award-winning Holocaust novel, The Devil’s Arithmetic. However, Mac’s teacher defends censorship—as well as a bevy of school and town regulations and discriminatory attitudes surrounding LGBTQ+ pride, dress codes, curfews, and access to junk food. Mac lives with and is close to his single mother and grandfather; his disengaged father’s dishonesty and explosive anger damage his feelings of self-worth. Mac has support from aromantic and asexual friend Denis and feminist classmate Marci. Mac exhibits real growth in his understanding of Marci’s perspective and advocacy. Reading The Devil’s Arithmetic also influences a Vietnamese American classmate to use her real given name, rather than the Anglicized form, something she felt pressured to do in their 97% White town. Though the school’s administration resists the young people’s challenges, the students’ movement builds a promising following on the way to a cathartic showdown with the school board. The protagonists clarify the various issues for readers who may not be aware of them, and the story skillfully encourages keeping open minds and extending grace to the oblivious and hostile alike. An author’s note addresses the real-world events that inspired the book. A searingly relevant opus to intellectual freedom. (Fiction. 9-12) Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

School Library Journal
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Gr 5 Up—King's latest novel is so timely and relevant, some readers may feel like the author has been privy to what's going on in their own schools. Mac is in the sixth grade and is a kid who knows his own mind. His teacher is known around town to be a strong, conservative influencer—for reasons that are never explained. Ms. Sett runs her classroom like she seems to run their small town, with antiquated rules and expectations. Girls aren't allowed to wear shorts to school and no junk food is available, and these are enforced city ordinances. Ms. Sett is a conundrum when she doesn't tolerate bullying and is an advocate of children but then censors books in her classroom including the book Mac is reading, The Devil's Arithmetic, in a literature circle. When Mac and his classmates find black marker has been used in all the books to mark out words thought to be inappropriate for sixth graders, Ms. Sett has gone too far (not even canceling Halloween got the kids as riled up as the "black rectangles"). While Mac and his friends work against censorship, Mac is also dealing with his father's mental illness. He has a good mom and grandad to support him when things get very confusing with his dad. Readers will find it easy to side with the outraged students and parents who go to the principal and then the school board to protest censorship and make sure the rules will protect everyone, and not just the opinions of one person. This title is slightly more sophisticated and mature than Alan Gratz's Ban This Book but is equally satisfying. VERDICT A striking book on censorship; a must-have in all middle grade classroom and school libraries.—Kim Gardner

Horn Book
(c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Sixth grader Mac Delaney isn't sure what to expect after being assigned to Ms. Sett's class. She's famous -- "as famous as a person can get in our town" -- for writing letters to the newspaper decrying everything from junk food to girls wearing shorts in school. She seems okay, though, on the first day of school, promising her students she'll treat them like adults -- as long as they follow classroom rules. "We don't tolerate any of the behaviors your age group usually indulges in." For "lit circle," Mac picks Jane Yolen's The Devil's Arithmetic (classroom rule: Don't Read Ahead!), but he and his groupmates soon encounter a series of "ugly black rectangles" covering up words. When they discover what's been censored (references to breasts), who's done it (Ms. Sett), and why ("some of the boys in class giggle"), they decide to take action, finding allies and adversaries in unexpected places. King, winner of the 2022 Edwards Award for her surrealistic YA, writes middle-grade fiction (Me and Marvin Gardens, rev. 1/17; The Year We Fell from Space, rev. 11/19) that is generally more straightforward and accessible but whose timeliness and existential explorations are no less consequential. Her respect for young people is exemplary, and her characters indelible. A wrong-headed teacher can still offer compassion; Mac's unreliable father could be a space alien. And Yolen makes a cameo appearance. In her appended author's note, King reveals that the story was based on true events. (c) Copyright 2023. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.