This small book grabs readers' emotions as they begin to know Clayton Byrd. Playing the blues harp (harmonica) with his beloved grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd and the Bluesmen band is the highlight of Clayton's life. When Cool Papa Byrd dies suddenly, Clayton is devastated, and has to face his mother, who seems not to understand Clayton or his grandfather. Running away to find the Bluesmen, Clayton goes underground to the New York subway, where he finds TROUBLE! Written with beautiful rhythmic language, the complex dynamics of a family comes to life. Rita Williams-Garcia has crafted a powerful and exceptional book!— Barbara Katz
National Book Award Finalist * Kirkus Best Books of 2017 * Horn Book Best Books of 2017 * Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2017 * School Library Journal Best Books of 2017 * NAACP Image Awards Nominee * Chicago Public Library Best Books * Boston Globe Best Books of 2017
From beloved Newbery Honor winner and three-time Coretta Scott King Award winner Rita Williams-Garcia comes a powerful and heartfelt novel about loss, family, and love that will appeal to fans of Jason Reynolds and Kwame Alexander.
Clayton feels most alive when he’s with his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd, and the band of Bluesmen—he can’t wait to join them, just as soon as he has a blues song of his own. But then the unthinkable happens. Cool Papa Byrd dies, and Clayton’s mother forbids Clayton from playing the blues. And Clayton knows that’s no way to live.
Armed with his grandfather’s brown porkpie hat and his harmonica, he runs away from home in search of the Bluesmen, hoping he can join them on the road. But on the journey that takes him through the New York City subways and to Washington Square Park, Clayton learns some things that surprise him.
"This slim novel strikes a strong chord."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"This complex tale of family and forgiveness has heart.” —School Library Journal (starred review)
"Strong characterizations and vivid musical scenes add layers to this warm family story.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“An appealing, realistic story with frequent elegant turns of phrase." —The Horn Book (starred review)
"Garcia-Williams skillfully finds melody in words.” —Booklist (starred review)
★ “Clayton’s love of his grandfather and his music is wonderfully drawn, as is his grief when he loses them.... Strong characterizations and vivid musical scenes add layers to this warm family story.”
★ “With the precision of a surgeon, Williams-Garcia lifts and examines layers of Clayton’s hurt and anger: the loss, but also the inability of his dismissive mother to understand... The book’s through line, though, is the music, and Garcia-Williams skillfully finds melody in words.”
★ “This slim novel strikes a strong chord... [A] holistic portrait of a family in pain, a realistic portrait of grief and reconciliation, and a reminder that sadness and loss are wrapped up in the blues.”
★ “An appealing, realistic story with frequent elegant turns of phrase. The third-person voice helps to keep Clayton’s story from becoming self-absorbed, as he learns to navigate the literal and figurative underworld and then find his way back to the everyday world of family, friends, and school.”
★ “Williams-Garcia packs a lot of story in this slim book... This complex tale of family and forgiveness has heart.”
“Like a classic blues riff, Clayton Byrd Goes Underground is deceptively simple yet profoundly deep. It wails, rattles, and roars in unexpectedly heartfelt and joyous ways.”
“Set to the low-down howl of the blues and cool thump of hip-hop, this story is so full of heart and soul it boogies right off the page. Read it right now!”
“Williams-Garcia writes with keen sympathy about a boy who lost the key adult figure in his life and his rage at his mother’s making the loss worse.”
“In Clayton Byrd Goes Underground, three-time Coretta Scott King Medal winner Rita Williams-Garcia has crafted an endearing family drama with all the wit, wisdom and resonance of the best blues songs.”
“Fans of Jason Reynolds and Kwame Alexander will find comfort in the portrayal of Clayton and his struggle to become a young man...Williams-Garcia shows us once again that the only answer is to lean into [our] burdens, name them, and bend them into our own score.”
“This lovely novel, poignant as a blues song, explores a child’s experience of profound grief, and how lonely that can be when adults don’t comprehend the enormity of the loss.”