Sunday, March 26, 2017

Book Review: Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson

Y’all, every time I think the incredible suite of 2017 new releases just can’t get any better, they do. There is so much magic - can we all as a nation just take a breath, read a few books (or a zillion?), and then start up again?

I’ve read Renée Watson before, This Side of Home is one I love, and Piecing Me Together just blows it out of the water. So here’s the the setup for Piecing Me Together: Jade, a high school junior lives in Oakland with her mom and Uncle E.J. Jade is enrolled at a fancy prep school and takes the bus across the city every day. While many people try to reach out to her to invite her to all kinds of opportunities and programs, the “fixing” and “saving” ethos annoys her more than anything else. She does not want to be fixed, saved, or given more ‘opportunities’ - she just wants to be successful and reach her goal of college.

So when a counselor brings up a program, Woman to Woman, even though she doesn’t want one more ‘opportunity,’ she participates because this one comes with the carrot of free college after 2 year successful participation, and that is something she just cannot pass up.

Even though she feels out of place at school, this year she meets Sam, who also rides the bus - and while their friendship at times gets rocky, she soon learns much more about friendship than she first expected.

Jade's relationship with her Woman to Woman mentor, Maxine, also starts off rather rocky, but shows Jade a lot more about herself and what being an ‘adult’ and ‘making it’ truly means. Being in Woman to Woman, even thought at first she was skeptical, comes to be a great asset to Jade as the novel continues.

Without saying more more for spoiler's sake - let me just say I LOVE THIS BOOK. Y'all, a YA book with a female lead not being just about a love interest!!!!!!! We have a young woman who is finding her sense of identity, purpose, and community -  figuring out how to all of her pieces come together- worrying about things other than just boys? GASP. There are many things to love, but Renée Watson, thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving Jade more depth than YA affords most women.

Some favorite lines (trust me, you will not regret this read!):

Pull of expectations vs. Reality: 

“My neighborhood is full of big dreamers. But I know that doesn’t mean those dreams will come true. I know something happens between the time our mothers and fathers and teachers and mentors send us out into the world telling us, “The world is yours,” and “You are beautiful,” and “You can be anything,” and the time we return to them. Something happens when people tell me I have a pretty face, ignoring me from the neck down. When I watch the news and see unarmed black men and women shot dead over and over, it’s kind of hard to believe the world is mine. Sometimes it feels like I leave home a whole person, sent off with kisses from Mom, who is hanging her every hope on my future. By the time I get home I feel like my soul has been shattered into a million pieces. Mom’s love repairs me.” (85)

“Listening to these mentors, I feel like I can prove the negative stereotypes about girls like me wrong. That I can and will do more, be more. But when I leave? It happens again. The shattering. And this makes me wonder if a black girl’s life is only about being stitched together and coming undone, being stitched together and coming undone. I wonder if there’s ever a way for a girl like me to feel whole. Wonder if any of these women can answer that.” (86)

Lines of Division and Lines of Unity: 

“And the other girl talks so bad about Northeast Portland, not knowing she is talking about Sam’s neighborhood. Not knowing you shouldn’t ever talk about a place like it’s unlivable when you know someone, somewhere lives there. She goes on and on about how dangerous it used to be, how the houses are small, how it’s supposed to be the cool new place, but in her opinion, ‘it’s just a polished ghetto.’” (90)

“I don’t know what’s worse. Being mistreated because of the color of your skin, your size, or having to prove that it really happened.” (137)

“No one speaks her name or mentions what happens. It’s as if no one in this school knows or cares that an unarmed black girl was assaulted by the police just across the river. My stomach hurts. And all I want to do is talk to my mom and Lee Lee and Maxine. Every time something like this happens, I go to accounting for every person I know who also fits the description, who it could’ve been. Feels like such a selfish thing to do-- to be thankful it isn’t someone I know. To call people just to hear their breath on the other end of the line.” (184)

“I can’t wait find out what country we’re going to, what the service learning project will be. Of everything Mrs. Parker has signed me up for, this one means the most. This time it’s not a program offering something I need, but it’s about what I can give.” (13)

“By the end of the panel, my fingers are cramping because I’ve been taking notes nonstop. There are handouts, but I didn’t want to write on them. I want to save them and share them with Mom and E.J. and Lee Lee.//Bring home something other than food this time.” (220)

Family & Self-Love:
“We all end up laughing, and the night ends with card games and Scrabble, and I go to bed, full in so many, many ways.” (107)

“I write my resolution in black Sharpie marker on top of a background made out of cut-up scriptures, words from newspaper headlines, and numbers from last year’s calendar. Be bold. Be Brave. Be beautiful. Be Brilliant. Be (your) best.” (123)

“Thanks E.J.,” I say. “But I think it’s ridiculous that you think I would only be getting dressed up for a guy."
“Well, you look beautiful, whoever it’s for.”
I think for a moment and then tell him, “It’s for me.” (237)

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