The Road to Paris by Nikki Grimes

Road to ParisReading level: 3.7
Genre: Realistic fiction
ELL-Friendly: Yes
Library recommendation: Middle school

Goodreads summary:

Paris has just moved in with the Lincoln family, and isn’t thrilled to be in yet another foster home. She has a tough time trusting people, and she misses her brother, who’s been sent to a boys’ home. Over time, the Lincolns grow on Paris. But no matter how hard she tries to fit in, she can’t ignore the feeling that she never will, especially in a town that’s mostly white while she is half black. It isn’t long before Paris has a big decision to make about where she truly belongs. Nikki Grimes has created a portrait of a young girl who, in the midst of being shuffled back and forth between homes and realizing things about other people and the world around her, gradually embarks on the road to discovering herself.

The Road to Paris, with all its lyrical prose, was a breath of fresh air after reading Shine, Coconut Moon. Although simple (hence the reading level of 3.7), it is a beautiful and deep story, broken into many small chapters. I recommend it more for middle school because the language is simple and the main character is young (8 years old, I think), but high schoolers might also like it as a free-reading, SSR book.

This book also reminded me of a bit of Shine, Coconut Moon where Sam realizes she’s the only brown face in a sea of white ones. Here, Paris sees that she’s the only Black student in her class. She also gets cursed at for being Black by her best friend’s father. While Paris perhaps lacks the maturity to truly comprehend why that happened, she was still hurt by it, yet she moves on. The theme, then, is resiliency and strength for oneself.

Paris and her brother are foster kids, and I felt warmth run through my body as Paris learned to love and trust the Lincolns after so many years of being mistreated and abused. I would recommend The Road to Paris to not only kids who are in foster care but those who don’t feel that they belong.

Some lady on goodreads went off on a tangent about this book not having a real climax because we know the climax at the very beginning. She also rants that the language is simple and that the author tells, rather than shows. I think there are explanations for all this. For one, sure, we know what the climax is when we read the first few pages, but what is important is the journey up to that point. We’re not just riding a roller coaster of ups and downs as exciting things happen; we’re following this little girl through a year of her life – a life that isn’t about making the perfect surprise at the end. The surprise isn’t the important part. That’s why it’s called The Road to Paris. Also, the language is simple because Paris is 8 and has simple, 8-year-old thoughts, although she has adult feelings. The language is a beautiful mixture of flowing prose to narrate simple events and thoughts.

That ending… I reached the end, turned the page expecting for find more, and was disappointed that it was over. While the ending was ambiguous, it was for good reason. After all, it’s about Paris’ journey to making the decision of how to respond to that phone call that we learn about in the prologue. Everything after will be impacted by the year we see into her life.

Side note: the professor of my young adult literature class used to remind us frequently that the characters aren’t real; they don’t have feelings; nothing happens to them when the words stop. Those comments always really ticked me off. I’m quite content to imagine that Paris (and all the other wonderful fictional characters I read about) exist, if just in the pages of their books.