I wracked my brain and couldn’t find another book like this—a sequel to a movie. That’s right. IT DOESN’T TAKE A GENIUS is the continuation of gifted Emmett Charles coming of age story. If you missed the 2019 movie like I did—BOY GENIUS—no worries as the novel is a totally new story set at a summer camp for black excellence. Here’s the 2-minute movie trailer so you can meet the main character before reading my review of the book:
The story turns into a reflective journey for Emmett (or E as he prefers to be called). He questions who he is becoming and what it means to be a black youth in today’s world. The synopsis is spot on in its summary:
Emmett and his older brother Luke have always been “Batman and Robin,” though they’re quick to bicker about who’s who. Spending the summer at a historic Black summer camp seems like a wonderful adventure for the two to share, but since Luke is there as a junior counselor, he seems to spend all of his time being everyone else’s big brother, and ignoring Emmett. As Luke seems to be moving on to new adventures, Emmett struggles in unexpected ways, especially in swim class and the “It Takes A Village” entrepreneurship class. Without his brother to turn to for support, Emmett works to build a new crew of “superfriends,” who’ll help him plan something spectacular for the end-of-camp awards night and celebration. Along the way, Emmett learns that no matter what, there can be many ways to define family.
Camp is full of references to Black dancers, actors, scientists, and pop culture icons who defined excellence in their own fields. E is used to being the the smartest of all but realizing he knows little about these famous individuals from the past and present. Along with the fact he is surrounded by other brilliant and creative kids, this new learning has him rethinking everything. What is Black identity and how does it intersect with community? E will find that answer and more.
Emmett’s running commentary keeps the story moving through 44 chapters and an epilogue. Not a fast pace but a good one so readers can reflect on their own biases and perceptions of what it’s like growing up Black. Yes, there is a huge difference and stories like IT DOESN’T TAKE A GENIUS succeed in moving the dial closer to understanding why.
BOOK BIRTHDAY: April 13, 2021 PAGE COUNT: 308
FIVE MORE THINGS TO LIKE ABOUT: IT DOESN’T TAKE A GENIUS by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
- I cringed at the scenes in the swim classes. Reminded me of myself clinging to the side of the pool afraid of drowning just like E. Thankfully I got over my fear. No spoilers as to whether Emmett succeeds.
- Charles became more than just a secondary character and roommate to E. His story would be an interesting one to tell in a future book.
- Captures the heart of middle grade relationships. Confusing and rewarding all mixed up in those 12-year-old minds.
- No need to hide your giftedness at this camp. Intellect was celebrated. The reminders of Black icons in all areas was a needed and interesting part of the story.
- An older sibling going away to school is often a concern of kids. The future is scary and you’re about to lose your safety net. This plot point was handled well and will be helpful to young readers in the same predicament. What you know isn’t always the whole story.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich is the author of 8th Grade Superzero, which was named a Notable Book for a Global Society, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, an adaptation for Sesame Workshop’s Ghostwriter, and Operation Sisterhood. She is the coauthor of NAACP Image Award nominee Two Naomis, a Junior Library Guild selection, and its sequel, Naomis Too. She also writes nonfiction, including Above and Beyond: NASA’s Journey to Tomorrow, Someday is Now: Clara Luper and the 1958 Oklahoma City Sit-Ins, and Saving Earth: Climate Change and the Fight for Our Future.
Olugbemisola is a member of the Brown Bookshelf, editor of the We Need Diverse Books anthology The Hero Next Door, and teaches at the Solstice MFA Program in Creative Writing. She holds an MA in education, and has written frequently on parenting and literacy-related topics for PBS Parents, Brightly, American Baby, Healthy Kids, and other outlets. Visit her online at olugbemisolabooks.com and on Instagram: @olugbemisolarhudayperkovich.
I received an ARC in exchange for my honest review. Comments are welcome below.