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This Side of Home Hardcover – February 3, 2015
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From School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Maya is heading into her senior year at Richmond High, but it's nothing like she'd thought it would be. Her Portland neighborhood is changing—along with her twin sister Nikki, her relationship with her boyfriend Tevin, and Maya's plans with Nikki and their BFF Essence to attend the same historically black college. Rent goes up, forcing Essence and her family to move further away from the twins. Tony and his family move in. Maya and Nikki deal with their changing "up-and-coming neighborhood" in different ways as they're forced to blend their ethnic and cultural identities and traditions with a changing community. Watson offers readers a personal account of what gentrification does to a neighborhood and those who live in it before the Whole Foods moves in. Maya has a fantastic voice—honest, passionate, and multidimensional. On top of all the "normal" teenage issues dealing with friends, romance, and the future, Maya has to deal with the changes her neighborhood is going through. She's compelled to act to make sure the original people, stores, and history don't disappear so quickly. Gentrification can be extremely difficult to discuss, but Watson delivers a well-rounded, delicate, and important story without sacrificing any heart. An engrossing and timely coming-of-age story.—Emily Moore, Camden County Library System, NJ
“Writing with the artfulness and insights of African American teen-lit pioneers Rita Williams-Garcia, Angela Johnson, and Jacqueline Woodson, Watson shows Maya exploring concerns rarely made this accessible . . . essential for all collections.” ―starred review, Booklist
“Watson paints a thoughtful, powerful picture of the complications of contemporary African- American experience, especially when it rubs up against the hipster middle class. . . . Without ever losing focus on the story of a group of likable teens working through changes during their senior year, Watson effectively manages character and situation to create a genuinely interrogative, genuinely multi-voiced perspective that reflects efforts to negotiate personal identity and desires amid unresolved problems of systemic racial injustice.” ―starred review, BCCB
“An intriguing look at how families and young people cope with community and personal change. Readers may be surpised to find this multicultural story set in Portland, Oregon, but that just adds to its distinctive appeal. Here's hoping Watson's teen debut will be followed by many more.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“Watson delivers a well-rounded, delicate, and important story without sacrificing any heart. An engrossing and timely coming-of-age story.” ―School Library Journal
“Watson hits key topics of class, race, and changing neighborhoods while telling a story about growing up, growing apart, and how love can come out of the blue, as well as across racial lines.” ―Publishers Weekly
“Watson's first book for young adults will impact the life of anyone who reads it. . . . at a time when there is a call for more diverse books, Watson brings to today's teens a story that needs to be read.” ―VOYA
“A wonderful book that deals with racial stereotypes and is thoughtful, well-written, and timely.” ―Library Media Connection
“In This Side of Home, Renée Watson's loving, descriptive powers are in full force. She's sharing a vibrant world so well, friends who make us care, crackling true voices and legacies, interweave of troubles, knowing a place, wanting it never to change except in good ways, holding on to friends, doorways, porches, rooms and rhythms, don't go, don't go, the tiny rich glories making it home. 'Sometimes you have to rewrite your own history,' she says, then she lets her people do it, reshaping . . . 'A cleansing is taking place' and it's the world we live in and she gives it back to us so we understand the mystery a little better even if we can't solve it, even if nothing is ever quite fair. There's more there, and she finds it.” ―Naomi Shihab Nye, author of HABIBI
Top customer reviews
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Angelia Vernon Menchan
EyeCU Reading Approved & Recommended
This Side of Home follows Maya, a black girl from Portland who is dealing with her neighborhood’s gentrification, fighting for her school’s Black History Month’s celebrations, the ebb and flow of her relationships with her twin sister Nikki, and their best friend Essence, and her perception of herself as she grows feelings for Tony, the white boy who moved into Essence’s house after she and her mother were kicked out – just one of the families displaced because of that gentrification I mentioned earlier. What I loved the most about this novel – and reading any novel about marginalized people written by someone who lives that same experience – is that, instead of taking a single black character and tokenizing them or taking even a black main character and whitewashing their existence, Renee Watson has put black people, their history, their lives, their culture, in the front and center of this book. She has taken Maya’s pride and shame and fear about her heritage and her race and made these feelings so realistic and palpable for the reader. Maya’s internal struggles as well as her external activism drove each page and really brought home a slice of what it’s like to be black in America.
And all the while, Maya was allowed to be a whole person. Too often, black characters, especially black girls and women, are pushed to fulfill the Strong Black Woman archetype. This leaves absolutely no room for flaws, for personality, for personal growth and for weakness. Maya, while a fighter for her community and their rights and culture and the recognition they all deserve, is still a whole person unto herself outside of that activism. She is more than just those actions as student body president. She is a teenage girl, a senior on the brink of going away for college, a best friend to a girl who very often needs a best friend to rely on. Maya is a girl falling in love. She is a sister and a friend and a neighbor and a member of Portland’s community. She gets to be all these things and it is such a welcome breath of fresh air to see a young woman of color get to do, feel, be all of it.
The writing was breathtaking, too. Especially the pages dedicated to the introduction of each season. It was poetry on the page. And I loved the storytelling style. Each chapter was almost a small story on its own, strung together with other chapters to complete an overarching plot. As the book progressed, though, the chapters started to feel less like vignettes and more like ordinary chapters, which for me, was slightly disappointing, but didn’t really change the reading experience. The shortness of the chapters also lead to quick, fast-paced reading. This wasn’t a very action-packed novel – it is actually quite a quiet story – but I flew through the pages anyway.
My real complaint – and there is only one – that I felt like there was a wall between the reader and Maya. Though it was told in first person, the writing was simplistic sometimes. I almost felt that Maya was a bit innocent and unsure of herself in some areas (though not many?) that lead to some inconsistencies, and thus, I felt a bit disconnected to her. But the story was so important and so beautifully told, that I quickly forgave this small issue.
This Side of Home is a book that needs to be talked about more. With this surge of support for diverse books with diverse characters, I feel like this title gets overlooked too often. If you love contemporary, activism, stories about family, you should definitely pick this one up. You will not be disappointed.
There are seventy-nine chapters but none too long, some no more than three pages. Characters, dialogue and situations are interesting. And even though there is a distinct seriousness throughout, there are parts that made me smile.
Twins and identity, same-race discrimination, appearance discrimination, interracial relationship insecurities, education, diversity in schools, friendship, alcoholism - these topics are tackled effectively. This is a story that stimulates thought.
Renee Watson created believable teenage characters and wrote this young adult novel without profanity fillers or graphic sex scenes. She has a beautiful way with words. I was in awe of her writing; the poetic flow kept me engaged from beginning to end.
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