Review: Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson

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A timely and powerful story about a teen girl from a poor neighborhood striving for success, from acclaimed author Renée Watson.

Jade believes she must get out of her neighborhood if she’s ever going to succeed. Her mother says she has to take every opportunity. She has. She accepted a scholarship to a mostly-white private school and even Saturday morning test prep opportunities. But some opportunities feel more demeaning than helpful. Like an invitation to join Women to Women, a mentorship program for “at-risk” girls. Except really, it’s for black girls. From “bad” neighborhoods.

But Jade doesn’t need support. And just because her mentor is black doesn’t mean she understands Jade. And maybe there are some things Jade could show these successful women about the real world and finding ways to make a real difference.

Friendships, race, privilege, identity—this compelling and thoughtful story explores the issues young women face.

Rating: 4 Stars

There are many novels being published this year that are tackling tough subjects, many of which were touched upon in this novel. Each perspective is going to add something to the discussion and Piecing Me Together is one of those novels that needs to be brought up. It introduces us to Jade, a girl living in a neighborhood labeled as a ‘hood’ and going to a private school attended by predominately white kids.

There were many parts of this novel that tackled difficult subjects: racism, prejudice, internalized racism, privilege, identity. Looking at certain events, such as being profiled in a store at the mall because of her skin color and her body type, through the eyes of a woman of color gave me insight into situations that I’ll never experience. It was hurtful and shameful to read about Jade’s having to deal with these events, realizing that it’s not just a book to some people, it’s every day life.

One of Jade’s many talents, besides her scholarly abilities, is her art. It was interesting to hear about, not only the fact that collage is an unusual kind of art to read about in a novel but because she used it to cope with the various difficulties she was working through. There was historical stories that echoed through time to her world (Lewis & Clark’s journey with Sacajawea & York); police brutality that shook not only Jade but those around her in her North Portland neighborhood; Jade’s personal problems in learning to speak up not only for those around her but for herself. It would be fascinating to have seen some of her collages sprinkled throughout the novel (I read an eARC so  I can’t comment on the final artwork of the book).

Jade not only deals with white people seeing her through their racist perception of a stereotypical black girl, a girl that couldn’t possibly like classical music or speak well, but with issues within her own community. Maxine, her mentor in the Woman to Woman program, at one point talks about how her family brought her up to be proud of her heritage, but to not act black at her predominantly white school so as not to be judged anymore than she already would be because of her skin color. Maxine learns something from Jade throughout the book and comes to terms with her upbringing and how it might have clouded her judgement of Jade and the mentoring program girls.

There is also Sam, Jade’s new friend that attends her school. Sam is a white girl stands in as an example of white privilege. While hanging out with Jade, there are two separate incidents that Sam directly witnesses of a racist nature and she ignores them or denies their severity when confronted. Sam is an example of what silence can do and while she does begin to learn and recognize her own privilege toward the end of the book, there is still damage done to the friendship between her and Jade.

I would have liked to hear more about the girls in the Woman to Woman program because, while we are shown how Jade doesn’t fit the stereotype of the girl that would need the program, we never really hear much, if anything, about the other participants. There are briefs mentions of them at the beginning, but only by name and nothing really about their circumstances. It felt like that this would have been a good opportunity to bring in their unique stories.

Jade’s family was extremely important in this book, especially her mother seeing as she was the one pushing her into the various opportunities. Her father and uncle, however, felt like underdeveloped side characters that didn’t add much to the story. Her father’s actual presence on the page could have just as easily been cut and her history with him made internal dialogue; her uncle E.J. didn’t seem to serve any purpose at all, except maybe to illustrate how young he and Jade’s mother were.

Nothing was totally solved at the end of the book. Jade made great strides in coming into her own identity as a woman of color and as an artist, but in the background there’s the knowledge that the events inspiring her art are still going on. This is a stepping stone on a journey that needs discussion and sharing, not denial and erasure.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

All pictures, quotes, and videos belong to their respective owners. I use them here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.
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