Sunday, August 27, 2023

Your Plantation Prom Is Not Okay by Kelly McWilliams


Plantation weddings are gross, right? I think most of us are in pretty firm agreement that they're gross. Unfortunately, there's a small but visible minority that does not think they're gross; in fact, these people think they are very, very neat. They want to get married while LARP-ing to their Gone with the Wind fanfics while casually forgetting the millions and millions of Black people who suffered under slavery.

So obviously, Harriet Douglass and her father, who run a museum for enslaved persons out of a restored plantation, are less-than-thrilled when the sister plantation next to theirs is purchased by a B-list celebrity for exactly such a purpose. Harriet is especially infuriated because her mother just died from terminal cancer, and before her death, Westwood was basically her life's work. She devoted years of her life to educating people of all races about slavery, using that knowledge gap to bridge people closer together to a place of understanding and compassion.

YOUR PLANTATION PROM IS NOT OKAY is a timely read, for sure. I also found it very interesting from a psychological perspective because like I AM NOT YOUR PERFECT MEXICAN DAUGHTER, it examines what happens when trauma and grief manifest as anger. Harriet has a huge anger problem that actually causes temporary fugues and violent outbursts. As a result, I feel like we're exposed to a lot of different types of anger: self-anger, justified anger, sublimated anger, violent anger, etc. Part of Harriet's journey is learning to curb her violent impulses and also kind of channel her anger into proper outlets, in addition to learning to control it. It doesn't help that she lives on the grounds of a place of immense pain, where she basically acts as a steward to the darkest part of a cultural legacy that her ancestors were made to bear. And then there's additional drama with her mother's death that just adds even more burden onto her already depleted emotional bandwidth. What this ultimately ends up being is a portrait of stressors that teens-- especially teens of color-- can end up being forced to live with, which they often try to hide or endure alone.

This book also examines allyship and racism in a really intense way. Harriet has a lot of friends, who come from a lot of different backgrounds. The newest is actually the daughter of the celebrity racist plantation owner, who is named Layla. Layla is an influencer from LA but she's also socially aware enough to be able to call out microaggresions when she sees them and she and Harriet become close when she's the only one in class to call out a teacher for mixing her up with the only other Black student. But she does this without Harriet's consent or want, and I think consent is also a big part of being an ally; you have to help in a way that is actually helpful and not self-serving. A lot of her friends want to "help" but their motivations for doing so are muddled.

The storyline is great and sucked me right in. Since this is largely character-driven, it's kind of hard to summarize the plot beyond the whole "girl finds out that the plantation next door is a wedding venue and decides to stop it." There are subplots involving a cute romance, friendship drama, parental depression, and medical malpractice, in addition to Harriet's therapy journey for anger management. I personally felt like all of these elements were in pretty good balance and reinforced each other in a way that upheld the structure of the overarching story. I do wish that there had been more closure about the thing with Harriet's mom, though, although I guess it's more realistic that things like that often end up going nowhere. Likewise, Harriet finds out she gets into her dream school... but then chooses not to go because they benefited from slavery. Which on the one hand I get... but on the other hand, why not reap the hell out of the education you wanted and then flip them off as you're walking out the gates? But this sort of decision making was in keeping with her impulsive character, so I just rolled with it.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes YA that touch upon social justice and teens dealing with real and relatable problems. ESPECIALLY if they find themselves frustrated with books that operate with a heavy-hand and as a result, come off as two-dimensional. The best thing about YOUR PLANTATION PROM IS NOT OKAY is how complex all of the characters are, including the secondary ones. This book shares many themes with the other book I read by this author, which was called MIRROR GIRLS, but I think this was even better. I can't wait to read what she writes next.

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

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