Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground

5 Starred Reviews!"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 p...

Title:Clayton Byrd Goes Underground
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:0062215949
Format Type:ebook
Number of Pages:176 pages

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground Reviews

  • Brandy Painter
    Mar 31, 2017

    Clayton is an excellent main character. He is grieving the death of his grandfather and trying to navigate all those emotions while his mom is dealing with it in exactly the opposite way he needs. The inter-generational struggles here and how we carry the baggage of disappointing relationships into new ones is explored in a way that the target audience can take in. I think this could have been a truly extraordinary book, but (and I can't believe I'm saying this) it was too short. The last quarte

    Clayton is an excellent main character. He is grieving the death of his grandfather and trying to navigate all those emotions while his mom is dealing with it in exactly the opposite way he needs. The inter-generational struggles here and how we carry the baggage of disappointing relationships into new ones is explored in a way that the target audience can take in. I think this could have been a truly extraordinary book, but (and I can't believe I'm saying this) it was too short. The last quarter of the book is packed with too much action and emotion with a rushed resolution that fives the reader no time to process it.

  • Mary Lee
    Feb 22, 2017

    This white girl from small town/small city doesn't know blues and doesn't know subways, but I was pulled into the story of a boy grieving for his beloved grandfather. One of my fifth grade readers gulped it down in no time, and I read it the same way.

  • Ms. Yingling
    Mar 10, 2017

    ARC from Publisher at ALA

    Clayton loves to hang out with his grandfather, Cool Papa, and play the blues at Washington Square Park with his grandfather's band. Clayton desperately wants to have a solo, but Cool Papa tells him he's not quite ready. The two do this whenever Clayton's mother has a long nursing shift, since she is not thrilled with Clayton taking part in these activities. Since Cool Papa frequenly was on the road when she was growing up, Clayton's mother is very bitter about the music

    ARC from Publisher at ALA

    Clayton loves to hang out with his grandfather, Cool Papa, and play the blues at Washington Square Park with his grandfather's band. Clayton desperately wants to have a solo, but Cool Papa tells him he's not quite ready. The two do this whenever Clayton's mother has a long nursing shift, since she is not thrilled with Clayton taking part in these activities. Since Cool Papa frequenly was on the road when she was growing up, Clayton's mother is very bitter about the music. When Cool Papa passes away unexpectedly, she acts on this bitterness by selling or giving away every last possession of his, although Clayton manages to keep a blues harp and a hat his grandfather favored. Since he was so close to his grandfather, Clayton takes his death very hard, even though his father visits more and tries to distract him. Eventually, he becomes so angry at his mother that he runs away from home and falls in with a street gang that performs on the subway. The boys in the gang are not nice to him, and do a lot of vaguely criminal things, so hanging around with them eventually land him in jail. When his mother has to pick him up there, she is sure that it is the result of his grandfather's influence, but his father points out that he needs more help to get over the death of his grandfather.

    Strengths: Cool Papa is right up there with my favorite fictional grandfathers. Not only do the two make music together, but Cool Papa makes fish sticks and spaghetti, reads to Clayton at night, and is generally a loving and supportive presence in his life. I also liked that his father plays a prominent role even though he doesn't live with Clayton. This is a great length for middle grade, and moves very quickly.

    Weaknesses: This is not only very sad, but the way that Clayton's mother deals with the death is very dysfunctional, and Clayton makes dangerous choices.

    What I really think: I'm debating this one. I'm a bit worried that the 1980s style cover is going to make this one a hard book to encourage children to pick up. I love Williams-Garcia's work, but the sadness and bad choices in this one were a bit much.

  • Mary Ann
    May 20, 2017

    Young African-American Clayton Byrd yearns “to be a true bluesman among bluesmen,” playing blues harp alongside his grandfather Cool Papa Byrd and his band. When Cool Papa dies suddenly in his sleep, Clayton grieves deeply, his loss amplified by his mother’s anger toward her father’s blues playing days away from the family. Adam Lazarre-Whites narration resonates deeply, bringing depth and emotion to this touching story.

    Right from the first page, Rita Williams-Garcia weaves the power of blues th

    Young African-American Clayton Byrd yearns “to be a true bluesman among bluesmen,” playing blues harp alongside his grandfather Cool Papa Byrd and his band. When Cool Papa dies suddenly in his sleep, Clayton grieves deeply, his loss amplified by his mother’s anger toward her father’s blues playing days away from the family. Adam Lazarre-Whites narration resonates deeply, bringing depth and emotion to this touching story.

    Right from the first page, Rita Williams-Garcia weaves the power of blues through each fiber of her story, writing with the same "rhythm and slow-burning funk cooked into the blues" that she describes. She riffs on the lyrics of blues, but keeps it focused on young Clayton's story.

  • Kristin
    Jun 06, 2017

    Could have been just a little longer to really better examine the issues discussed.

  • Mary Louise Sanchez
    Jun 08, 2017

    Clayton and his grandpa, Cool Papa, sneak away on nights Clayton's mom works a long shift. They go to play the blues at Washington Square Park with Cool Papa's band--grandpa on guitar and Clayton on the blues harp (harmonica). But then Cool Papa dies unexpectedly after reading a bedtime story to Clayton. Clayton's mom immediately starts getting rid of every trace of her father--from his guitars to his pork pie hat and she forbids Clayton to play the blues.

    Clayton wishes his mother could underst

    Clayton and his grandpa, Cool Papa, sneak away on nights Clayton's mom works a long shift. They go to play the blues at Washington Square Park with Cool Papa's band--grandpa on guitar and Clayton on the blues harp (harmonica). But then Cool Papa dies unexpectedly after reading a bedtime story to Clayton. Clayton's mom immediately starts getting rid of every trace of her father--from his guitars to his pork pie hat and she forbids Clayton to play the blues.

    Clayton wishes his mother could understand his need to have Cool Papa's possesions, even though she didn't share this bond with her father. Clayton plans a secret getaway on the New York subway system to pay homage to Cool Papa by joining up with the band and playing a solo with them. On the way he meets up with a Hip Hop group and backs them up on the blues harp. They earn some money but then as Clayton follows them, the group commits some petty crimes and they all end up in jail.

    Clayton's mom blames everything on Cool Papa's influece but Clayton's dad help her understand the important role Cool Papa played in Clayton's life and his need to mourn in his own way.

    The story hits on the theme of how differently people mourn, especially when we see Clayton repeatedly falling asleep when his class reads the same book his grandfather read to him.

    I appreciated the role Clayton's father had in his life, even if he wasn't physcially present in the home. Also, the importance of grandparents in the lives of children was a constant in the story.

  • Samantha
    Jun 15, 2017

    Clayton and his grandfather share a close bond and a love of the blues. When Clayton's grandfather passes away suddenly, he is lost in his grief. His mother isn't processing her grief in a similar fashion, she is selling his grandfather's prized possessions, which feels like she's trying to erase his existence to Clayton who is having a difficult time expressing the depths of his loss to his mother. This puts the two at odds and Clayton's behavior is treated as acting out which is punished by ta

    Clayton and his grandfather share a close bond and a love of the blues. When Clayton's grandfather passes away suddenly, he is lost in his grief. His mother isn't processing her grief in a similar fashion, she is selling his grandfather's prized possessions, which feels like she's trying to erase his existence to Clayton who is having a difficult time expressing the depths of his loss to his mother. This puts the two at odds and Clayton's behavior is treated as acting out which is punished by taking away beloved possessions and privileges.

    Fed up and frustrated with issues at school, Clayton decides to pack up his things and seek out a life on the road playing blues with his grandfather's band mates. Along the way, he runs into a group of young people making their living by performing hip-hop on the streets and in the subway. Clayton learns quickly that he's not nearly as tough or smart as he thought he was and before long he's in pretty big trouble.with the law. When at last, Clayton faces all of his issues at home and school head on, he finds that his support system is stronger than he expected and with his father's help and a solid plan he begins to put his life back together even while grieving the loss of his grandfather.

    Back matter includes some insight on how blues music is related to hip-hop music and the author's inspiration in writing this story.

    The celebration of music is at the heart of this book. The language with which the author describes why music, specifically blues music, is so important to Clayton is beautiful and nearly poetic. The writing is lushly detailed and really helps the reader get into the mindset of a musician; helps them grasp what music does to their minds, bodies, and souls.

    The conflicts are layered and realistic and help the reader to invest in the story as well as keeps the pages turning. I really appreciated how grief was explored and processed through different relationships. This added to the authenticity of the story. The ending was a bit rushed for my liking, but I'd still recommend this for grades 5-8.

  • Angela Blount
    Jun 22, 2017

    Originally reviewed for YA Books Central:

    A stirring, tuneful tale of familial ties—those that bind and those that constrain.

    This contemporary Middle Grade book is told almost entirely from the third-person past-tense perspective of Clayton Byrd, a young boy who lives in New York City with his willfully single mother and his beloved “Cool Papa.” (Clayton’s father, Mr. Miller, is as present in Clayton’s life as his mother will allow… more on this later.) C

    Originally reviewed for YA Books Central:

    A stirring, tuneful tale of familial ties—those that bind and those that constrain.

    This contemporary Middle Grade book is told almost entirely from the third-person past-tense perspective of Clayton Byrd, a young boy who lives in New York City with his willfully single mother and his beloved “Cool Papa.” (Clayton’s father, Mr. Miller, is as present in Clayton’s life as his mother will allow… more on this later.) Clayton plays the “Blues Harp” (a.k.a Harmonica) for his grandfather’s band, The Bluesmen. Despite his pre-teen status, Clayton is passionate about music—longing to be just like his Cool Papa.

    Cool Papa is a devoted, nurturing grandparent the likes of which most readers (myself included) could only wish for. He not only cares for Clayton, he mentors and guides him—bestowing musical training, life lessons, and bedtime stories in abundance. So when Cool Papa passes away in his sleep and Clayton is the one to find him, the boy’s loss is heart-wrenchingly palpable. And knowing it’s coming doesn’t make it any easier on readers.

    Adding insult to injury, Clayton’s mother is in an almost inexplicable hurry to erase all evidence of her father. The day after the funeral, she holds a yard sale and more or less gives away all of Cool Papa’s belongings—including his guitars—and everything meant for Clayton. All he is able to save is his blues harp and his grandfather’s porkpie hat. Ms. Byrd’s ruthlessness, combined with her forbidding of the blues and insistence on blaming all of Clayton’s undesirable behaviors on her late father, eventually pushes him beyond what he can bear.

    The author walked a tricky tightrope of conflict. On the one hand, Clayton’s rage with his bitter, controlling (and somewhat unstable) mother is completely justifiable—especially in conjunction with his recent trauma and grief. It is clear Ms. Byrd loves her son, in her own dysfunctional way. But it’s also clear she is so damaged as to not comprehend (or perhaps not want to comprehend) when she is behaving in an irrational and emotionally abusive manner toward him. And on the other hand, Clayton’s misadventure in running away is ill-conceived from the get-go—involving a gang of criminal “entertainers” and some potentially life-threatening situations in and around the New York subway system. Readers will want to see Clayton escape his tyrannical domestic situation, but not in the foolish manner in which he goes about it.

    Ms. Byrd is difficult to like or sympathize with for most of the book—even taking into consideration the obvious hints of neglect and abandonment her child-self experienced thanks to having a father who was either away as a Navy officer, or away touring with his blues band. It isn’t difficult to believe that Cool Papa may have indeed been a lousy husband and father. But there is also no disputing his excellence as a grandfather. The brokenness of her mentality is eventually summed up by Clayton’s father—the man she holds at arm’s length out of her own pride and guardedness:

    Williams-Garcia’s descriptions of music—the initial explanation of the blues especially—was a joy and a pleasure to read. For those who aren’t familiar with the blues and its appeal, there is experiential learning to be had in her rhythmic, evocative writing.

    There were just two issues that detracted from the story for me. The abruptness of the ending, and the rarity of Ms. Byrd’s perspective.

    -The wrap-up, while not unsatisfying, felt rushed—lots of action with little time taken to examine emotional impact.

    -We are given just two 2-page chapters from Ms. Byrd’s perspective—one toward the beginning and one 3/4ths of the way through. I would have loved to see more of what Ms. Byrd felt and learned, and how she presumably grew through the experience. The idea that adults can get help for their problems, and sometimes need to, is well worth addressing.

    I don’t usually include quotes that aren’t pulled directly from the book I’m reviewing, but in this case, I wanted to offer one that felt so irresistibly suited to both the book and the subject matter:

    --BB King

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