Bookworm: ‘Hands’ aimed at young male readers

‘Choosing Family’ a memoir on motherhood and black resistance

Terri Schlichenmeyer


  • By Torrey Maldonado
  • c. 2023, Nancy Paulsen Books
  • $16.99, 138 pages

Hey, pick that up, would you? You don’t want to leave a mess; that’s just rude and disrespectful. Get your hands dirty, clean up after yourself, pick up your things and put them away. Those are lessons you learned almost as soon as you could walk. Put your things up, pick up your fists, and in the new book “Hands” by Torrey Maldonado, make an impact.

At 12 years old, Trev carries a lot on his shoulders.

Ever since his stepfather was jailed for hitting Trev’s mother, Trev’s been the man of the house and he feels responsible for protecting his older sisters and his mother, who “shielded” him from the family’s problems. The other thing Trev carries is a lot of anger.

“Hands”  by Torrey Maldonado.

He used to think highly of his stepfather but after that one night; not anymore. He hates now when people say he looks like that guy because Trev knows he favors his real dad, who died five years ago. He knows that his father would’ve never hit his mother.

The posters in his bedroom give Trev an idea. He could be like Creed. Like Tyson. Like Ali or Mayweather, so he and his best friend, P, start working out near their home before they take things to a gymnasium where some of the guys in the neighborhood practice boxing. When they ask to train with a guy who seems to know what he’s doing, Trev and P are told “no.”

Turns out the trainer knew Trev’s uncle way back, and Uncle Lou made his friends promise not to let Trev do anything dumb.

Stay in school, the trainer said. Do good.

And there’s that word, “promise.” Trev’s teacher says he’s got some. His mother knows he has it, too, People tell him that they promise him this or that, but Trev knows promises break. He feels like a fidget-spinner, never going anywhere, spinning in place until the right kind of promise comes along...

Many hands, they say, makes light work. Give someone a hand and they appreciate your support or your help. In this “Hands,” though, despite a somewhat misleading cover, your youngster will learn about the importance of family – not just the one you get at birth but also the one that gets created along the way.

But that’s not all: the subtler, softer lesson for your boy is one of self-control, a message that author Torrey Maldonado doesn’t make much fuss about. It’s just part of the story, a small part that, in retrospect, feels like a heartbeat. The lesson’s there but, absent all preachiness or ill-placed nagging, it’s possible that your young reader might learn about self-discipline and misplaced responsibility without any awareness that he’s done so. That makes this an easy book for a parent to say yes to, and for a kid to enjoy.

There’s absolutely no reason that a pugilistic girl can’t read “Hands,” but it’s really meant for boys ages 9-to-14. If yours wants a good, decent story, then yeah, pick this up.

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“Choosing Family: A Memoir of Queer Motherhood and Black Resistance”

  • By Francesca T. Royster
  • c. 2023, Abrams Press
  • $26, 264 pages

Check one from each category. Pick carefully. Take one from Column A, one from Column B, or choose what’s behind Door Number One or Two. Immediate or long-term, when it comes to your future and your happiness, as in “Choosing Family” by Francesca T. Royster, it’s good to have options.

The whole idea hit her like a slap.

Francesca Royster had never particularly wanted to be a mother. She’d dated boys in school, decided that she liked women better, and eventually came out to her family. No, motherhood wasn’t on her radar – and yet, when she saw a sleepy toddler wrapped in her mother’s arms at an airport, Royster had the sudden need to tuck that little head beneath her chin.

She never discussed it with her partner, Annie. The urge “receded to the edges of my thoughts,” she says, and they traveled instead, hit middle-age together, cared for sibling’s kids, and joked about “breeders.” She loved the life they’d built as queer women with community, what Royster calls “queer time.” Would she lose that if there was a baby involved?

“Choosing Family: A Memoir of Queer Motherhood and Black Resistance” by Francesca T. Royster.

She and Annie split took time to think about the future but came together nightly to talk and plan. Royster spoke to the “Mothers” – ancestors and goddesses from other cultures – and she thought of the kids near her hometown of Chicago who needed families.

Her female forebears had raised children, their own and others’, in situations that were fluid. Surely, two queer women could, too.

And so, she and Annie applied to adopt and after a nail-biting wait and a near-loss, they brought home their daughter, Cece, who became a fierce, smart, loving little girl who’s cherished by the family that her mothers have assembled.

“I... know that there might come a day when Cece won’t feel as comfortable with this motley group that is our chosen family,” Royster writes. But “ living our lives as truly as we can... we can change the world that she inherits.”

“Choosing Family: A Memoir of Queer Motherhood and Black Resistance” author Francesca T. Royster.

Not that it will affect your enjoyment at all, but the subtitle of “Choosing Family” is a bit confusing. This book is more about “queer motherhood” than it is about “Black resistance” and that’s okay. The best, most meditative, most meaningfully-worded parts of author Francesca Royster’s story are in becoming a mother to her child, and in tales of Royster’s own mother and other steely female ancestors who left their prints on her.

Resistance? No, that’s irresistible, especially to anyone pondering raising children.

Anchored by the turning of the word “family” upside down and reclaiming it from white hetero-normalcy, then, readers are led – indeed, treated – to what Royster and her partner created B.C. (before child) and afterward. Theirs is a made family that includes blood relatives, absent relatives, and relatives-because-we-say-so.

That’s icing on a work-in-progress cake for readers who are considering doing the same thing, formal or otherwise. “Choosing Family” is also for those who’ve done this work, created the family they want, and it’s all good. Picket fence and two-point-five kids or not, check this.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Read past columns at