Sunday, February 19, 2023

Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson


Renee Watson is one of my autobuy authors. I love the way she manages to capture the way teens and preteens actually sound: it's a period of self-discovery and the formation of one's soon-to-be-adult identity, but real teens and preteens can also be moody, petulant, and, yes, even selfish. That's part of being human and I often see reviewers critique YA for these sorts of portrayals, but I think it's important for kids to have these feelings be validated, as well as being shown the path for growth. Ms. Watson does this beautifully.

Jade is an artist. She is also one of the few Black teens at her prestigious school, which she has to bus into every day. Since her family is poor, and she herself is very smart and talented, she received entry to this sponsorship program, Woman to Woman, which guarantees a scholarship upon completion. Her mentor is a woman named Maxine, a Black woman who comes from a very wealthy family. Her job is to relate to Maxine and school her in the ways that she can build a successful future for herself, but because she never grew up poor, her advice often ends up feeling laughably tone-deaf.

PIECING ME TOGETHER is a really great book for a variety of reasons. As I said, the heroine feels like a typical teen, with all the ups and downs that come with that. It talks about the intersection between poverty and ethnicity, but also how these things are not mutually inclusive. This is also shown with one of Jade's friends, Sam, a white teen who is also poor, like her, who sometimes faces socioeconomic microaggressions from her peers, but not the racial ones, of which Jade receives both. The book is also about learning to stand up for yourself and set boundaries. Jade learns to be her own advocate, and how to constructively challenge people who make her feel bad about herself, intentional or no. Most of these work out in her favor, but she also learns about overstepping, when she lets her (valid) anger with some of Sam's own microaggressions shade into her jealousy about Sam being the recipient of a benefit that she (Jade) wants, which she then proceeds to guilt her about.

I liked seeing Jade grow as a character and I liked the descriptions of her art, and how going to the museum felt like such a moment for her. Experiences like that when you're young, where you love doing something and then get to see how the experts do it, can be so powerful. I felt like Watson really captured that for Jade. I also liked how she incorporated some of her angst and uncertainty about the hostile sociopolitical climate for Black people into her works. Also, as with some other Renee Watson books, I really enjoyed how this felt like a love letter to Portland.

Though this book was a little shaky and precious in some parts, I'm rounding up because it was fun.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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