Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
- Age: 12 to 15
- Grade: 7 to 10
- Reading age: 12 to 15
A Winnipeg Free Press Bestseller! • In the Margins Book Award, Top Ten Selection • CCBC’s Best Books for Kids & Teens (Fall 2017) Selection
Close as brothers, Jakub’s and Lincoln’s lives diverge when Jakub gets a private school scholarship and Lincoln is lured into a gang.
Fifteen-year-old Jakub Kaminsky is the son of Polish immigrants, a good Catholic boy, and a graffiti artist. While his father sleeps, Jakub and his best friend, Lincoln, sneak out with spray paint to make their mark as Morf and Skar.
When Jakub gets a scholarship to an elite private school, he knows it’s his chance for a better life. But it means leaving Lincoln and the neighbourhood he calls home.
While Jakub’s future is looking bright, Lincoln’s gets shady as he is lured into his brother’s gang. Jakub watches helplessly as Lincoln gets pulled deeper into the violent world of the Red Bloodz. The Red Bloodz find out Jakub knows more than he should about a murder and want him silenced — for good. Lincoln has to either save his friend, or embrace life as one of the Red Bloodz.
About the author
An author and junior high school teacher who also enjoyed many years of teaching kindergarten, Colleen Nelson earned her Bachelor of Education from the University of Manitoba in her hometown of Winnipeg. Her previous works include the critically-acclaimed middle-grade novels Harvey Comes Home and Harvey Holds His Own; Sadia, which won the 2019 Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Award; and Blood Brothers, which was selected as the 2018 McNally Robinson Book of the Year for Young People. Colleen writes daily in between appearances at hockey rinks and soccer fields in support of her two sports-loving sons. The family’s West Highland Terrier Rosie adds an extra-loveable dose of liveliness, squirrel-chasing, and shoe-chewing to their lives.
- Winner, McNally Robinson Book for Young People Award
- Commended, In the Margins Book Award, Top Ten List
- Short-listed, High Plains Book Award, Young Adult Book
- Commended, CCBC’s Best Books for Kids & Teens (Fall 2017)
- Commended, Dewey Divas and the Dudes Winter 2017
Excerpt: Blood Brothers (by (author) Colleen Nelson)
The sky gets pink close to dawn. Night bleeds away as the sun breathes life into day.
My finger throbs. The tip of it numb and sticky with paint. The street lamps flicker off as I stand back to survey my night’s work.
Huge swoops of colour light up the background, like my tag has landed in a puddle of rainbow slime. “Morf,” my other self, glows in bubble letters meant to look like liquid metal. All graff writers have a handle. Mine means something. To change, to morph. To become something else: a metamorphosis.
With a satisfied sigh, I turn my back on the side of the building and stuff spray cans, my bandana, and black book into my backpack. Hidden in shadows, I scale down the fire escape and drop to the alley, the cans in my pack rattling. In a few hours, people walking to the bus will look up and see my name flash before them. It wasn’t there yesterday. They’d never even noticed that building before. But, now, my name slaps them in the face. They can’t ignore me. My name looms above, stomping on them.
Two guys stumble out of a house party. I watch as they try to open the latch on the chain-link gate. Too many fumbling fingers. They’ll be trapped in the yard till their vision clears, or they pass out.
The rooming house rises up between two empty lots. The city tore down one house a few years ago and the other burned to the ground. Arson, the cops said. I smelled the smoke in my dream. Dad yelled at me to wake up as he tried to scoop me up, like he still had the strength to carry me. We made it out and watched from across the street, huddled in a blanket as flames engulfed the building. Two people died in the fire and I had nightmares for weeks.
There’s two cop cars, their lights flashing, in front of the rooming house. The blue and red orb spins, reflecting off the windows. Shrugging off my backpack, I ditch it in the empty lot next door. I know they aren’t there for me, but my heart pounds anyway. I swear and kick at a stone. If the sirens wake up my dad, he’ll see I’m not asleep on the couch where I’m supposed to be.
Without my backpack, I feel naked, exposed. It’s like battle armour. I eye the cops; a couple of them mill around the front yard, blocking my entrance. No police tape is up yet. That’s a good sign. Means no one is dead. One of them looks at me, doesn’t bother to question why I’m returning home at this time of the night. I was ready with an excuse if he had: I fell asleep at my best friend Lincoln’s house.
I put my head down and brush past them, taking the steps in two strides. Two more cops stand outside 1D. The McLarens. Mr. and Mrs. Domestic Abuse. Should have guessed.
I cried angry tears the first night we moved to this place. When the landlady, Laureen, opened the door to the apartment, Dad and I froze in the hallway; neither one of us wanted to walk inside. It stank. Like piss and body odour. Laureen had promised to have it cleaned before we moved in. But she couldn’t do anything about the stains on the floor or the foam exploding from the couch cushions. Dad explained why we were moving from our two-bedroom apartment to the rooming house. There was no choice. They raised the rent and he couldn’t afford it anymore, not even with a housing subsidy. If we wanted a roof over our heads, this was it.
Laureen gave Dad two keys, held together by a red twist tie. He gulped and stuffed them in his pocket like he didn’t want to admit they belonged to him. I knew what Dad was thinking, what he was always thinking. This wasn’t the life he moved here for. We’d be better off in Poland than living in this shithole. But, he made his choice twenty years ago, promising my mom a life in Canada. They’d escaped under a barbed wire fence and hid in the trunk of a car, then relied on the kindness of strangers. And for what? So my mom could die after giving birth to me and Dad could end up with a mangled leg from his job at the train yard.
He could feel sorry for himself, but he doesn’t. Polish pride, he calls it. There are some things that are non-negotiable: church every Sunday, good grades, and good food. No matter how tight things are, Dad always has a meal ready for me. I come home from school to find him limping between the sink and stove, boiling potatoes or stirring soup. My brain needs food, he says. We won’t have empty stomachs. That was one thing we’ll never have, empty stomachs. He had enough of that in Poland. A boy can’t grow or succeed in school with hunger pains to distract him.
He probably should have been a chef. He hums to himself, old Polish folk tunes, when he cooks, his fingers turning crimson with beet juice. Or love songs, if he’s feeling nostalgic, glancing up at the one photo we have of my mom. Grainy and out of focus, she’s standing in front of the church, the golden spire rising from a white dome, a mosaic of the holy family glinting in the sun. Scrawny legs, made scrawnier by the fullness of her skirt, and bushy curls obscuring most of her face.
Father Dominic stopped by the apartment soon after we moved in. Taking a look around, he skimmed over the books and his eyes came to rest on the crucifix perched above the couch. He nodded at it, like he was greeting a friend. Father Dominic had baptized me and stood over my mother in the hospital as she took her last breath. All in the same week. It was touch and go with me in those early days. No one knew if I’d make it or not. I don’t ask a lot of questions about what happened. Dad doesn’t like to talk about it. Says I’m a blessing from God, no matter what. But then he gets teary and quiet.
The door clicks shut behind me. I half expect Dad to be sitting up waiting for me. But he’s a heavy sleeper. Sirens in the night are so common, we’ve both learned to sleep through them. His snores fill the apartment, a low rumbly wheeze.
I pull back the sheet and blanket on the couch, leaving my jacket on the armrest. Closing my eyes, I picture the newly marked building. Like a baptism, I christened it mine.
I’ll walk past it in the morning, to see how the colours look in daylight. I drift off to sleep content. I accomplished something this night. No one could accuse me of not leaving my mark on the world. It was there, for all to see.
Readers ... will be rewarded with an aptly dark ending that gives the book extra emotional weight.
School Library Journal
A smartly plotted examination of the despair that keeps people in their places and the hope that pulls them out of it.
Blood Brothers will have huge appeal to both male and female young adult readers … Thought-provoking yet entertaining.
For Jakub and Lincoln, whose voices Colleen Nelson asserts both honestly and compassionately through those strides and missteps, it's their brotherhood that walks with them, leaving its own footprints.
Can Lit for Little Canadians
Nelson’s gritty new novel…skillfully explores moral dilemmas and difficult decisions.
Canadian Children's Book News
This is [Nelson’s] most serious novel so far and one that deserves acclaim.
Winnipeg Free Press
Nelson crafts an engaging story about two boys struggling to survive … Readers looking for a gritty story about true friendship and the consequences of one’s actions will enjoy this offering.