Pieces of Why makes you begin asking questions immediately. You might start with, "What does the why in the title refer to?" or "Who is this girl on the cover?" As you read the story of Tia and her decision to ask some questions that she has been wondering about for most of her life, you will begin to think of other questions. Some of what Tia wants to know will probably be similar to your own thoughts. Why do people do bad things? Does doing a bad thing make you a bad person? Is it right to forgive someone who has done something really bad? But other questions are very unique to her situation, like wondering why her mother is so reluctant to go anywhere in public, or why her father is in prison.
Questions aren't the only things in the book; after all, that wouldn't make much of a story. Tia lives in New Orleans with her mother and her father is not around (although we don't know why at first). Her best friend Keisha sings with her in a children's group called the Rainbow Choir, led by Ms. Marion. Even though Tia is "a skinny white girl with brown hair, dark brown eyes, and skin about as pale as a person's could be" (her own description of herself), Keisha says that, "Tia does gospel the way it's supposed to be done."
Besides the choir, the girls also sing songs by their favorite pop stars and have a regular sleepover each week. They can talk about their families, the snotty girls in the choir who are only their because their parents make them come, and even discuss boys. Through all the drama over who will sing the lead solo, who will be kissed by the boy she likes, and worry over a shooting that happens outside the church during choir practice, Tia and Keisha have their friendship to lean on.
The author lived in New Orleans for several years and you can almost feel the heat and see the streets as she describes them. Unlike many books recently written about the city, this one doesn't focus on Katrina or its aftermath. The hurricane is only mentioned briefly as an event that Tia remembers. What is does focus on is the relationships and the dynamics between the characters. It is a book that can simply be read for enjoyment of a good story, but it also opens up so many opportunities for discussion about things like guilt by association, racism, verbal intimidation, and cultural expectations.
I would recommend this as a good read for middle grades and up - but be prepared and have the tissues handy just in case you feel a few sympathetic tears along the way.
I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley. There is a very interesting and informative Author Interview available if you would like to hear K.L. Going talk about some of her inspirations and how she became a writer.