Wednesday, March 15, 2017
Piecing Me Together
First sentence: I am learning to speak. To give myself a way out. A way in. When I learned the Spanish word for succeed [tener exito], I thought it was kind of ironic that the word exit is embedded in it. Like the universe was telling me that in order for me to make something of my life, I'd have to leave home, my neighborhood, my friends.
Premise/plot: Jade, the heroine of Piecing Me Together, is starting her junior year of high school. She has mixed feelings about attending St. Francis. On the one hand, none of her friends go there. The school is mostly white. And most of the students are not attending on scholarship but come from really wealthy families. Jade is on scholarship. She's been a student there for two years and has yet to make a real friend.
On the other hand, the junior year offers the opportunity--the possibility--to travel abroad. And there are other benefits and opportunities as well. Like the Woman to Woman mentorship program, twelve African American students from Portland are chosen for the two year program. Those who complete it and keep up their grades, receive a scholarship to any Oregon college. Jade is chosen. She's excited about the idea of a scholarship to college. But less excited about being perceived as needing to be mentored. Jade is an artist working with mixed media making collages. She's also super-smart. In fact, she tutors other students at St. Francis. Why does she "need" to be fixed by a mentorship program?!
Her mother begs her to make friends this year. And it seems, at last, this might be a possibility. Sam is not from a wealthy family. She lives in a "not nice" part of the city. She's white, but poor. They seem to have a few things in common. But. Sam is far from perfect. She "doesn't get" many things about Jade. She witnesses a couple of instances where Jade is treated unfairly. Jade says it's because she's black. Sam is less sure that's the case and says so. This causes a lot of friction between the two. One instance: the two are shopping together. The salesclerk is rude to Jade several times: telling her that loitering is not allowed, that she can wait for her friend outside, and finally, that if she's going to wait inside that she needs to leave her purse/bag behind the counter. The second instance: the lunchroom lady is rude to Jade yelling at her that she's holding up the line, taking too long. Jade tells her that it's her holding up the line by arguing with her, that she just wants to dip up whatever it is and move along. Another girl, a white girl, makes a rude comment about the lunchroom lady, Jade laughs at her joke. Jade is pulled out of line, marched to the counselor's office, and threatened. Sam's response is that Jade was disrespectful. She shouldn't have laughed. She shouldn't have talked back. These instances and others like them make Jade feel alone and misunderstood.
It's not just Sam giving Jade a headache. Maxine, her mentor, is far from perfect. Is Jade expecting too much of this soon to be college graduate? Or is Maxine too irresponsible to be a mentor in the program? Maxine does seem to see Jade as someone to be fixed. Readers see--Jade sees--that Maxine is struggling with her own life choices.
The message of this one is: To err is human. No one is perfect. Just because someone isn't perfect doesn't make them evil. Show some grace, you yourself are not perfect. Be true to yourself, speak up for yourself. TALK, TALK, TALK IT OUT.
My thoughts: I was tempted just to say: "read this book." I think the strongest compliment I can give this one is that none of the characters are perfect, they're all deliciously flawed. This is a very human book. And that's what I love about any book. Characters need to be that human. I also loved seeing the relationships between characters. Jade and her Mom, Jade and Maxine, Maxine and Jade's Mom, Sam and Jade, Jade and Lee Lee--these relationships are complex. One of my favorite scenes was when the Mom invited Maxine for dinner, and when she realized Maxine was clueless in the kitchen, offered to teach her how to cook, included her in meal preparation. For months, there had been tension in the house. The mom feeling that Maxine was an intrusion in their lives. Maxine always buying her daughter things--art supplies, books, meals--taking her daughter places--museums, symphonies, etc. Yet when Jade talked bad about Maxine, she'd get mad saying that this opportunity was too great, too big to be ungrateful, to be angry that Maxine was all-too-human. This scene was just satisfying.
It was also nice, in a way, to see Jade love her body just as it is. She's large, or, "thick." But she doesn't see that as a problem to be fixed either. She doesn't see that as something hindering her or holding her back. So what that she doesn't get to shop in stores for skinny white women?! So what that she doesn't look like most of her classmates?! She's beautiful. She's talented. She's smart. So what that some random guys at Dairy Queen thinks she's fat?
If this is a "problem novel" it's a multi-problem book. It has layers; it's complex. It's not a simple book with cardboard characters banging you over the head with an IMPORTANT MESSAGE. Yes, the characters have opinions--strong opinions--about anything and everything. But that just makes them human. Show me a person with no opinions?!
© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews