A Note and Disclaimer: This is Part 1 of a 3-part blog on the the Beat Street Series, with Part 1 reviewing The Beat on Ruby’s Street, Part 2 reviewing Fool’s Errand, and Part 3 featuring an interview with author Jenna Zark. I received free copies of the The Beat on Ruby’s Street and Fool’s Errand. I was not paid for my reviews and my opinions are honest and from the heart.
Genre: Middle Grade
Author: Jenna Zark (website here)
Where to Buy: Amazon
Page length: 215
My Content Rating: G+ (for an age-appropriate story with some complex content that might bring up a few questions for a young reader)
Ruby Tabeata is an 11-year old girl who lives in Greenwich Village in the 1950s with her family. Her parents, family friends, and idols all embody “the beats,” a counter-cultural movement of the time beloved by artists and free spirits. Ruby herself is a poet and idolizes the big writers of the era, like Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg.
One day, Ruby is accused of stealing fruit and a social worker starts to take an interest in Ruby and her family. Ruby is separated from her parents and does everything she can to get home to them, only to realize the home she thought she loved can never be the same.
What I Loved:
I loved the uniqueness of Ruby’s voice. She really feels fleshed out, vibrant, and her own person. She’s written in a very emotionally honest way that also feels appropriate for an 11-year old.
The setting was awesome! 1950s Manhattan is not a typical setting choice for a Middle Grade book, but I appreciated both the unusual choice and how solidly it came across on the page. From Ruby’s love of leotards to the descriptions of music and taxis, I felt this was one of the real strengths of the book.
Finally, what I think I loved most about the book was the difficult but definitely true-to-life themes and issues Ruby has to deal with. She has to grapple with a well-meaning social worker. She thinks her family is perfect, only to realize toward the end of the story that there are cracks in her parent’s relationship. I appreciate that these themes are explored through Ruby’s perspective, and we have to come along for the ride.
What I Didn’t Love:
While I really did love the more complex themes this book deals with, sometimes I think, by nature of Ruby being 11, the message was a little murky to find and could have used a little clarity and a firmer resolution. It’s admirable that the book tries to deal with really complicated elements in life, like parental separation, civil disobedience, and the role of the state (through the lens of social workers) in ensuring the safety of children. However, I finished the book not really knowing where the story fell on these difficult elements, which was not super satisfying. I think it’s particularly important for Middle Grade books to provide some answers (whereas adult or young adult can leave more room for nuance/interpretation) because younger readers are still learning their own perspectives on life.
Would I Recommend:
Yes. I think this is a really unique book with a fascinating main character. This book is a gem for sure. I would recommend it for anyone 10 and up, and think this would make a marvelous book for a young reader and parent to read and discuss together.