Peas and Carrots, Tanita Davis

“But Jenny, you should read Tanita Davis! Perhaps this new one, Peas and Carrots!”

“Oh, gosh, it seems like she has a sort of middle-grade aesthetic going on, and I tend to prefer older-skewing YA, so I’ll maybe give her a miss.”

“Jenny, no really, Tanita Davis, she’s right up your–”

“Shhhhh, I’m busy.”

FOOLISH FOOLISH FOOLISH JENNY. Have I not yet learned that I should listen to bloggers and their wisdom? Even if I have reservations? Peas and CarrotsΒ is about two girls, Hope and Dess, who become foster sisters without either of them particularly wanting to be. In alternating chapters, they tell the story of how Dess is folded into the Carter family.

Peas and Carrots

Couple things. That are great about this book.

1. The foster care system has really, really serious flaws. The whole thing may need to be scrapped and started over at some point, that’s how serious I think the flaws in it are. At the same time, there are lots and lots of people trying to work within the system to make kids’ lives better. This second point can get lost sometimes in pop culture. Or always. It was refreshing to come across a book about a foster family who wanted, and worked for, only the best outcomes for their foster kids. PLUS, it’s one of very few books I’ve ever read that included child protection workers who weren’t evil.

2. Sister stuff. Neither Hope nor Dess was dreaming of having a new sister. Hope has enough going on in her life without adding a grumpy white racist teen sister into the mix, especially one who calls her fat and hopeless. Dess just wants to be with her baby brother again, even if he now calls Mrs. Carter Mama and barely remembers Dess. But they develop — what? Eh? What’s that you say? A grudging respect between sisters?

YES. THEY DEVELOP A GRUDGING RESPECT.

3. Appropriate boundaries! I love boundaries more than I love most people, places, and things. If ever you are wondering how to set a boundary, come talk to me. I am the Queen of Boundaries. Also great at setting boundaries is the foster family in Peas and Carrots. While the Carters are incredibly compassionate toward Dess, they also make their expectations clear, and they reiterate to her what kind of behavior (kindness first!) is valued in their family culture. A+ boundary-setting.

4. Nothing actually is resolved. Dess doesn’t get a permanency ruling. The sick baby doesn’t magically get healed. We don’t find out if Dess is in as much danger from her father and his gang as she believes she is. Peas and Carrots offers the possibility a better world to Dess, but it never promises her (or us) a perfect one.

Although (or because) the only stakes in Peas and Carrots are emotional ones, I couldn’t put this short book down. I sneakily read it on my lap when I was supposed to be selling books for work. Shhhh, don’t tell work.1 Now I will have to go out and read everything Tanita Davis has ever written.

What is your favorite book about BOUNDARIES, team?

  1. Work knows. I believe what I said to work was “I am finishing such a good middle-grade book, is that cool?” and they said “Sure, nobody’s even here to buy books yet! It’s so early!”
  • Alex (Sleepless Reader)

    Never thought about boundaries-themed books, but I’ll return to this post regularly in the next few days to get recommendations. With a 3-year-old at home, boundaries are a hot-topic right now!

    • Hahahaha, boundaries are a hot topic among my family ALWAYS. We are just boundaries enthusiasts!

  • Jeanne

    I am very bad at setting boundaries. To the extent that I can do it at all, I have to thank Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, which gave me some scripts for it (oh how I love scripts) like “Oh dear I can’t attend your party” with stage directions like “repeat firmly” and “do not elaborate.”

    • Indeed? I am excellent at it. Apply to me any time for advice! I’ve always wanted to be an advice columnist! :p

  • Aarti

    Oh, lovely! I have never read Tanita S. Davis, either. I think she wrote a book about pilots during WWII, right? Or am I making that up? Anyway, I, too, shied away due to an idea that she wrote for a younger audience, BUT just as you are trusting me on Gabi, a Girl in Pieces (which I agree has a horrible cover), I shall trust you here.

    • Yes, I think so–Mare’s War! I liked that one less actually, which is why I haven’t read more of her books so far. However, I read it under suboptimal conditions (sleeper train, super exhausted, sick traveling companion) and do not feel sure that the problem was the book and not me.

  • JeanPing

    Hm, sounds like I should buy this for work. Just the sort of thing I’m looking for.

    • Yes! Buy it for work! Is work a library? Doesn’t matter, actually — whatever your work is, buy this book for it!

      • JeanPing

        Work is indeed a library, the community college kind. We’re currently working on expanding the reading lounge, which has fun books for all reading levels.

  • Harriet

    I would like to recommend another middle grade reader (full disclosure: the author is a friend of mine), The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. It was named a Newbery Honor Book this year. I wouldn’t say that I thought it was about boundaries when I was reading it, but it is definitely something that persists through the book — the breaching of boundaries by some and creating by others to engineer stability. Highly recommended.

  • Stefanie@SoManyBooks

    Can you come to my work and teach one of my coworkers about boundaries? I have tried and tried and tried but at this point I am banging my head against a brick wall. I have not thought of boundary themed books. Maybe you could give me a list and I can shove it at my coworker. But then again she is not a reader so never mind. Sigh.

  • Laila@BigReadingLife

    Jenny, I am SO BAD at boundaries. But I have been working on it. I would love it if you had an all-boundary-advice blog!

    Also, this books sounds terrific. I added it to my Goodreads TBR.

  • I don’t know shit about BOUNDARIES except stay on your side, but YAY TANITA S. DAVIS!!! Now get Mare’s War. TRUST ME.

  • “They develop a grudging respect,” also: Boundaries!! *applause* I rarely read middle-grade books, but usually enjoy them and have less prejudice than towards YA. I know, I’m working on it! I loved One Crazy Summer and Calpurnia Tate and still love middle grade mystery books πŸ™‚

  • I have personal experience with the foster care system and I can attest to how truly awful it is. Long story short – my sister’s husband had some issues, to put it mildly, and her three children were taken from both of them, luckily my mother and stepfather were able to foster them so they didn’t have to go into separate foster homes. The whole situation was terrible and terrifying and utterly depressing how each child protective worker assigned to the case would quit just when that person started getting to know my mom and the kids. These people were INSANELY overworked and underpaid, and anyone who does that job and becomes a terrible person has only my deepest sympathies because it’s the system that makes them that way, not the individuals, is my belief. The whole thing was bananas. So I definitely know there are people within the system trying to do a good job and take care of children appropriately and help them have happy and healthy childhoods and not grow up into resentful, sad and depressed adults. So I think I’d like this book to be reminded of that.

  • Juhi

    I gotta read this one! It sounds like something I’d enjoy!! Thanks for sharing!!