Garvey's Choice

writ­ten by Nik­ki Grimes
Word­Song, Octo­ber 2016

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Garvey’s Choice

Garvey’s father has always want­ed Gar­vey to be ath­let­ic, but Gar­vey is inter­est­ed in astron­o­my, sci­ence fic­tion, read­ing — any­thing but sports. Feel­ing like a fail­ure, he com­forts him­self with food. Gar­vey is kind, fun­ny, smart, a loy­al friend, and he is also over­weight, teased by bul­lies, and lonely.

When his only friend encour­ages him to join the school cho­rus, Garvey’s life changes. The cho­rus finds a new soloist in Gar­vey and, through cho­rus, Gar­vey finds a way to accept him­self, and a way to final­ly reach his dis­tant father — by speak­ing the lan­guage of music instead of the lan­guage of sports.

This emo­tion­al­ly res­o­nant nov­el in verse by award-win­ning author Nik­ki Grimes cel­e­brates choos­ing to be true to yourself.

Awards and Recognition

  • ALA Notable Chil­dren’s Book
  • Bank Street Col­lege of Edu­ca­tion Best Books of the Year list
  • Book­list Top 10 Con­tem­po­rary Mid­dle Grade Novel
  • Book­list: Top 10 Diverse Fic­tion List
  • Book­list: 50 Best Mid­dle-Grade Nov­els of the 21st Century
  • Book­list, starred review
  • Cal­i­for­nia Book Award finalist
  • CCBC Choic­es book (Coop­er­a­tive Chil­dren’s Book Center)
  • Chica­go Pub­lic Library Best Books of 2016
  • Cybils 2016 Book Award for Poet­ry finalist
  • Indi­ana Young Hoosier Book Award selec­tions 2018–2019
  • Junior Library Guild
  • Kansas State Read­ing Cir­cle Best of the Best
  • Kirkus Reviews Best Mid­dle Grade Books of 2016
  • Kirkus Reviews, starred review
  • Lee Ben­nett Hop­kins Poet­ry Award Hon­or 2017
  • Library Media Con­nec­tion, starred review
  • Lion and the Uni­corn Award for Excel­lence in North Amer­i­can Poet­ry 2017
  • Mary­land Black-Eyed Susan Award nominee
  • Myra Cohn Liv­ingston Award for Poet­ry,
    Chil­dren’s Lit­er­a­ture Coun­cil of South­ern California
  • NCTE Notable Verse Nov­els 2017
  • Nerdy Book Club Award for Poet­ry and Verse Novels
  • Notable Books for a Glob­al Soci­ety (ILA)
  • Pater­son Prize for Books for Young Read­ers, Hon­or Book, 2017
  • Penn­syl­va­nia Young Read­ers Choice Award List for 2018–2019
  • Pub­lish­ers Week­ly, starred review
  • School Library Con­nec­tion, starred review
  • School Library Jour­nal Best Mid­dle Grade Books of 2016
  • School Library Jour­nal, starred review
  • Vol­un­teer State Book Award nom­i­nee 2018–2019
  • YALSA Quick Pick for Reluc­tant Young Adult Readers


What a treat! The Book Club for Kids pod­cast fea­tured “Garvey’s Choice.” I answered ques­tions from read­ers at Alice Deal Mid­dle School in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Actor Haskell V. Ander­son III is the celebri­ty read­er. Kit­ty Felde is host. Have a listen!

Edu­ca­tor / Dis­cus­sion Guide

Nikki Grimes


  Writ­ten in poignant­ly poet­ic tan­ka verse, Grimes’ newest fol­lows a young black boy search­ing for his own unique voice, lost among his father’s wish­es and soci­ety’s mis­char­ac­ter­i­za­tions. This com­pas­sion­ate, coura­geous, and hope­ful nov­el explores the con­straints placed on black male iden­ti­ty and the cor­re­spond­ing pains and strug­gles that fol­low when a young black boy must con­front these real­i­ties both at home and in school. Gar­vey has a com­pli­cat­ed yet car­ing rela­tion­ship with his fam­i­ly: “Mom’s got a tal­ent / for origa­mi, but she / can’t fold me into / the jock Dad wants me to be.” Gar­vey copes with his father’s dis­ap­point­ment by binge eat­ing and, more pos­i­tive­ly, escap­ing into sci­ence fic­tion. Read­ers see the deep, lov­ing friend­ship Gar­vey shares with class­mate Joe, the only one with whom he can share his secrets. Through his father’s lament that Gar­vey isn’t “nor­mal” and oth­er clues, Grimes leaves the pos­si­bil­i­ty open for read­ers to see Gar­vey as a young gay boy, which rein­forces the con­nec­tion the nov­el estab­lish­es between him and Luther Van­dross, who strug­gled with both body image and being clos­et­ed. Gar­vey even­tu­al­ly finds him­self in the school cho­rus. “I feel unwrit­ten / like that song says … / I can’t wait to sing my song, / croon my own untold sto­ry.” This grace­ful nov­el risks stretch­ing beyond easy, reduc­tive con­struc­tions of black male com­ing-of-age sto­ries and deliv­ers a sin­cere, authen­tic sto­ry of resilience and find­ing one’s voice. (Kirkus Reviews, starred review)

  Writ­ing in five-line tan­ka poems, Grimes (Words with Wings) weaves a heart-wrench­ing sto­ry about a boy who isn’t the jock his father dreamed he would be. Gar­vey loves books and, despite his father’s efforts, can­not get excit­ed about sports. He eats to mask the pain of his father’s dis­ap­point­ment and is teased at school for his size. Help arrives in the form of friends Joe and Man­ny, an albi­no boy who embraces his dif­fer­ence, but when Gar­vey risks join­ing the school cho­rus and lets his voice soar, he learns to become proud of what he can do, instead of focus­ing on what he can’t. In sim­ple, sear­ing lan­guage, Grimes cap­tures Garvey’s heartache at his father’s inabil­i­ty to accept him as he is, as well as the casu­al but wound­ing teas­ing Gar­vey endures at school (“The change bell always/ sinks fear into me like teeth./ Ugly name-call­ing leaves me with bloody bite marks:/ lard butt, fat­so, Mis­ter Tubbs”). Garvey’s jour­ney to self-accep­tance is deeply mov­ing and will linger with read­ers long after they fin­ish this brief, inci­sive verse nov­el. (Pub­lish­ers Week­ly, starred review)

  A Coret­ta Scott King Author Award–winning author and the recip­i­ent of the 2016 Vir­ginia Hamil­ton Lit­er­ary Award, Grimes returns to the nov­el-in-verse for­mat, cre­at­ing voice, char­ac­ters, and plot in a series of pithy tan­ka poems, a tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese form sim­i­lar to haiku, but using five lines. While the sto­ry ends on a hope­ful note, Grimes is clear that it takes work and time, as well as insight and deter­mi­na­tion, to cre­ate real change. Writ­ten from Garvey’s point of view, the suc­cinct vers­es con­vey the nar­ra­tive as well as his emo­tions with brevi­ty, clar­i­ty, and finesse. (Book­list, starred review)

  Grimes’s lat­est is a sen­si­tive­ly writ­ten mid­dle grade nov­el in verse that takes its syl­la­ble count from Japan­ese tan­ka. Gar­vey is an over­weight boy who is teased at school and whose father con­stant­ly prods him to be more like his ath­let­ic old­er sis­ter, Ang­ie. But Gar­vey has a best friend (Joe), an open heart (which leads him to a new friend, Man­ny), and, as read­ers learn mid­way through the book, a tal­ent for singing, which lands him a cov­et­ed solo in the school’s cho­rus con­cert. Through that tal­ent, Gar­vey finds a way to con­nect with his father and com­bat his bul­lies’ rude remarks with a new­found strength of pur­pose. Those who thought Plan­et Mid­dle School’s Joylin was a remark­ably life­like por­trait of an angsty yet kind ado­les­cent will fall hard for Gar­vey, a ten­der, sin­cere boy who dis­likes ath­let­ics. Grimes writes about ado­les­cent friend­ships in a way that feels deeply human. VERDICT A short, sweet, sat­is­fy­ing nov­el in verse that edu­ca­tors and read­ers alike will love. (School Library Jour­nal, starred review)

Buy this book:

Read more about Garvey