“I am ripping and cutting. Gluing and pasting. Rearranging reality, redefining, covering, disguising. Tonight I am taking ugly and making it beautiful.”
Genre: Young Adult | Fiction
This is a story about Jade, a young African-American scholar trying to piece together her narrative and find her voice amidst the struggles of everyday life. Life hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Jade, who lives in a poor neighborhood on the Northside of Portland, Oregon. Despite her excellent academic track record and zeal for learning, Jade finds herself grappling with concepts like belongingness, race & equality, intersectionality and privilege. As the only black student at St.Francis Highschool – a private institution on the opposite side of her hometown- she often feels singled out, like all eyes are on her, like she’s the spokesperson for all black people, especially those living in the underprivileged parts of Portland. Watson highlights the theme of minority students always being viewed as “at-risk” or “needing additional assistance.” Uprooted on a daily basis from family, friends and her tight-knit community, Jade finds herself searching for opportunities to enrich her experience at school and feel worthy of achieving her greatest dreams. Set out to read the journey of Jade painted against the backdrop of contemporary America.
Reference Points: 261 pages | 76 abbreviated chapters | Spanish vocabulary
Watson gracefully develops the character of Jade, her mentor Maxine, and the mother-daughter relationship. Not only is Jade faced with adversity in her own journey, but becomes witness to the injustices like police brutality and racism which have affected the members of the black community. This novel is key in layering gut-wrenching and often misinterpreted themes that plague modern day society and inherently affect how our African-American brothers and sisters are viewed.
Stemming from my own personal accounts with racism and lack of belonging in today’s society, I relate so dearly to Jade’s story. She acts like a literary mirror, showing me that minority experiences, although different, are so intricately interconnected. Jade’s ability to discover her voice and power through artistry is relatable and inspiring.
Growing up South Asian-American, I’ve found it challenging to see people like myself being represented in creative industries. Academics, medicine, entrepreneurship, and spelling bee’s is what I’ve been conditioned to believe that “my kind” are good at/made for. As a brown female young adult there are pressures tacked onto me to follow in the footsteps of those that came before. The beaten path adopted by the masses where you put your head down, grind and avoid questioning the system has never been appealing to me. Paralleling Jade’s passion for collaging, creating art and exploring, I’ve found my voice through creative pursuits, blogging and traveling.
“It makes me feel like I’m learning a secret code or something. I don’t know. It’s powerful…knowing how to read words and knowing when to speak them is the most valuable commodity a person can have.”
Learning a new language, stepping outside one’s comfort zone, and speaking up for oneself are ways Jade’s character grows throughout the book. At first when she attends her new mentor program ‘Woman to Woman,’ she’s closed off to the idea of someone guiding her and being a role model. She questions why her teachers thought she needed this opportunity over the study abroad program she so eagerly wanted to be chosen for. It’s difficult to understand when others make decisions for you based on their perception of you, your cultural background and societal standing. As closed off as Jade was to the benefits of a mentor program, as the story progresses we see a shift in Jade’s demeanor- from standoffish to engaging.
Her intellect, creativity, and introspective nature are beautifully demonstrated through Watson’s style of writing. There were multiple times throughout the course of my reading where I felt connected to Jade’s character, her relationship with her mother and her mission of self-discovery.
I think there’s a piece of Jade in all of us – wanting to do more, say more, be more.
Be (your) best.”
Thank you so much for joining me on this month’s book review! I invite you to explore Jade’s story, learn, grow and own your uniqueness. I’ll catch you on the next one.
Till then, take care.