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“A mistake isn’t a failure. It’s just an opportunity to try again,” Grandma. –The Parker Inheritance    

The Parker Inheritance

by Varian Johnson

At A Glance
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When Candice finds a letter, she isn’t sure she should read it. It’s addressed to her grandmother, after all, who left Lambert in a cloud of shame. The letter describes a young African American woman named Siobhan Washington, an injustice that happened decades ago, a mystery involving the letter writer, and the fortune that awaits the person who solves the puzzle.

With the help of Brandon Jones, the quiet boy across the street, she begins to decipher the clues in the letter. The challenge will lead them deep into Lambert’s history—full of ugly deeds, forgotten heroes, and one great love—and deeper into their own family’s unspoken secrets. Can they find the fortune and fulfill the letter’s promise before the answers slip into the past yet again?

The Parker Inheritance is an ambitious story that tackles too many themes, including racism, oppression, love, friendship, bullying, sexual orientation, as well as family dynamics. The story uses flashbacks to delve into racism during the 1950s. Instead of being just a bunch of facts, the flashbacks will have an emotional impact on the reader. While most of the content is appropriate for middle-grade readers, the story does show some brutality as a group of white men attack a black boy.

While The Parker Inheritance is interesting, the complicated plot and the large cast of characters may be overwhelming for some readers. The story flips between the current day and the past as told by many characters. In the present day, Candice and Brandon research as they try to solve the clues. While the story has some mystery, most of the clues are revealed through flashbacks. However, the riddles are interesting, and following Candice’s and Brandon’s thought process is enjoyable.

One of the best aspects of The Parker Inheritance is the message that people can change, and “a mistake isn’t a failure. It’s just an opportunity to try again.” The characters’ personalities are multifaceted, which highlights the complicated nature of humans who often make choices that lead to both positive and negative consequences. For example, Candice’s grandmother was fired from her job, and some of the townspeople thought she was crazy. While this caused Candice’s grandmother to leave town, it also allowed Candice to become close to her grandmother.

In the story, a white boy’s father tells him, “You’ll never understand what it means to be a Negro. You’ll never face the discrimination they see every day. You’ll never struggle the way they do.” However, The Parker Inheritance allows readers to see the effects of racism both in the past and in the present. After reading the story, readers will hopefully reevaluate their own actions and be more accepting of people’s differences.

Sexual Content

  • Candice thinks that a group of boys is bullying Brandon because he “liked boys instead of girls.” Candice thinks, “It wasn’t a big deal—a few of the kids in her neighborhood had gay parents and there were two gay teachers at her school. But she didn’t know anyone who was gay.”
  • Candice overhears a conversation between her divorced parents. Candice wonders, “Had her dad asked if her mom was dating because he was seeing someone as well? And since when did he think it was okay to live with someone before getting married?” Later, Candice finds out that her father is dating another man.
  • Brandon’s grandfather kissed his girlfriend. While Brandon is uncomfortable, his grandfather “kissed Ms. Kathy again, this time longer.”
  • Siobhan and her boyfriend kiss at the park. After talking, “he kissed her again, and they both forgot about tennis and soda pop and everything else in the world.”
  • Brandon asked a boy who was bullying him, “Speaking of girlfriends, is Deacon Hawke still seeing your mom? Does your dad still go to therapy because of it?”
  • Brandon’s friend Quincey is gay.


  • Brandon is being bullied by a group of boys, and the ringleader is Milo. When Brandon shows up at Candice’s house, his “shirt was covered with leaves and grass, and two red scratches lined his face.” Brandon says the boys are “kids from school. They started picking on me a month ago.”
  • A group of men wielding baseball bats attacked Dub. After the attack, Dub “was slumped over in the recliner, his left arm in a sling. A white towel, wet with blood, had been wrapped around his head. Dub’s jaw was swollen, his nose was clearly broken, and his face was covered with scrapes and cuts… his front two teeth were missing.”
  • A group of men leaves a threatening message for Siobhan’s father. “The baby doll’s white skin had been painted the color of midnight, with thick cherry-red lipstick smeared over its small mouth. The doll was naked, with horrible words scratched into its plastic skin. A noose hung around the doll’s neck.”
  • Reggie runs from a group of men who are carrying baseball bats. A man with a knife grabbed Reggie. “He swiped at Reggie, tearing a gash in Reggie’s side… Reggie pinned the man’s hand to his side while stabbing at the man’s face with a mop handle. The stick, with its jagged, sharp end, sank into his attacker’s face. Into his eye socket. The man screamed.” Reggie fell, and two men “began to strike him with their bats.” Someone breaks up the fight, and Reggie is forced to leave town. The fight is described over two pages.
  • A tennis coach says his uncle “liked to knock me around when he was drunk, which was all the time.”
  • After Brandon says mean things about Milo’s mother, Milo “cocked back his arm like it was in slow motion. Brandon easily leaned away from the wild swing. And, then Milo was off balance, Brandon crushed his fist into Milo’s stomach… Milo’s fist exploded against Brandon’s face. He fell, his arms billowing out. His back and head bounced against the sidewalk with a loud crack.” Brandon is knocked unconscious and is taken to the hospital. The fight is described over two pages.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Candice’s mom takes a bottle of wine to the neighbor.
  • One of the adults “finished off his scotch. It tingled as it slid down his throat.”
  • Candice’s mom uses “cooking wine. It wasn’t very strong at all, not like real wine, but Candice still felt a little sophisticated whenever her mother used it.”
  • After Dub is attacked, he is given morphine.
  • When Dub’s daughter, Siobhan, helps him return to his seat, “she could smell the alcohol on his breath.” Dub thinks that “it was easy for him to be bold when he was propped up by liquor and bravado.”


  • Lord is used as an exclamation four times. God is used as an exclamation twice. “Oh my God” is used as an exclamation three times.
  • Candice thinks the app Mental Twister is “crappy.”
  • When Brandon sees the bullies, he says, “crap.”
  • Damn is used three times. When Dub doesn’t answer his friend’s question, the friend says, “Dammit, Dub!”
  • Hell is used once.
  • Someone calls a boy a “half-bred mutt.”
  • Dub tells a boy who likes his daughter, “A poor, high-yellow, country-dumb Negro like you will never be good enough for Lil’ Dub.”


  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When a landowner shows up at Enoch’s house, his mother “mouthed a prayer to herself.”
  • Candice goes to church, and “the pastor talked about hope. About faith. About staying on the right path, even when you can’t see the Promised Land.”
  • During a tennis game, Siobhan “closed her eyes and offered up a prayer.”
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“A mistake isn’t a failure. It’s just an opportunity to try again,” Grandma. –The Parker Inheritance    

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