This Side of Home is without a doubt an issue book. But the issues within This Side of Home are relevant and almost universal, I'd say. So, it may be an "issue book" but the issues addressed are authentic ones. The book spans Maya's senior year in high school.
Maya and Nikki are twins. They've always been super close. But the older they get, the more that is changing. Nikki is becoming her own person. Maya is becoming her own person. And sometimes the two just don't understand where the other is coming from. They can like each other, even LOVE each other, but still not quite understand each other.
Maya and Nikki have the same best friend, Essence. But again this is changing. Maya and Essence continue to be close--despite the fact that Essence moves near the start of the novel. But Nikki and Essence, well, they are growing apart from one another.
Essence has lived across the street (I believe, or, perhaps next door?) from Nikki and Maya for years and years. The girls can't remember not being friends with each other, of being just steps away from each others' houses. The two families are close--a little too close sometimes probably from Essence's mom's point of view. But when Essence and her mom are evicted (the landlord wants to upgrade the house and sell it) a new family--a white family--moves in. This family has a brother and a sister. Kate becomes close to Nikki. And Maya becomes close to Tony.
Race is very much an issue in This Side of Home. Nikki and Maya see things very differently, but, both are true to themselves. Maya embraces her ethnicity/culture. She is proud and outspoken and passionate. Nikki is often accused of "acting white." Nikki doesn't like to be picked on--Essence's family in particular has opinions--but she's not trying "to be white," she's just being true to herself, dressing the way she wants, the way she prefers, and wearing her hair the way she likes it, the way that suits her best.
Community is also an issue in This Side of Home. Through Maya's eyes we witness a community in the process of changing--of a primarily black community changing more and more into a more diverse one--a white one, she fears. She doesn't mind the addition of shops and restaurants and general property improvements, but, why are all the new owners white?
School. This is very much a "school" novel where the emphasis is on the whole school year...from the end of summer to the beginning of another summer. Maya is a diligent student, very smart, and very active. In fact, she's president of the student council, I believe. So much of the book is about her experiences as a Senior...and her thoughts about what comes next, where she wants to go to school, thinking about what those big, big changes will mean to her and her family and her friends. (How will going away to college change her relationship with her family? with Essence? with Tony?)
There are two things I really liked about This Side of Home. First, I loved the characterization. I loved the thoroughness of it. Major characters. Minor characters. Every character was brought to life. The characters had substance and felt human. Second, I thought the author did a good job with the setting and atmosphere of this one. (It's set in Portland, Oregon.)
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews