STARRED REVIEW
February 2015

Three friends take on the changing world around them

By Renée Watson
African-American twins Maya and Nikki and their neighbor Essence have always had their lives completely planned. They’ll date the right boys, attend historically black all-female Spelman College and be best friends forever.
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African-American twins Maya and Nikki and their neighbor Essence have always had their lives completely planned. They’ll date the right boys, attend historically black all-female Spelman College and be best friends forever. 

But as their senior year starts, their surety gets shaky. Nikki appreciates the freshness and variety that gentrification has brought to their neighborhood, but Maya resents the lack of local black-owned businesses. Essence and her perpetually drunk mother move across town, and a wealthy white family—including a cute boy and his racially ignorant sister—move in. As student council president, Maya finds herself constantly at odds with the new Richmond High principal, an outsider whose vision for the school doesn’t match that of many students. As the year progresses, the three friends find that relationships can evolve, goals can shift and the past can help inform the present as well as the future.

There’s never been a better time for author Renée Watson’s YA debut. Narrator Maya is perceptive, whether participating in an ongoing hallway-postering campaign or explaining why a celebration of “tolerance” shouldn’t replace Black History Month. A single racial slur appears in a particularly tense moment, but otherwise this is a gentle yet powerful reflection on choices, changes and contemporary African-American teenage identity.

 

RELATED CONTENT: Read a Q&A with Watson about This Side of Home

Jill Ratzan teaches research rudiments in central New Jersey. She learned most of what she knows about YA lit from her terrific grad students.

This article was originally published in the February 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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This Side of Home

This Side of Home

By Renée Watson
Bloomsbury
ISBN 9781599906683

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