Review Blog

Jun 05 2017

This side of home by Renee Watson

cover image

Bloomsbury, 2017. ISBN 9781619639300
(Age: Teens) African Americans. Identity. Love. Friendship. Student activism. Identical twins Nikki and Maya are in their final year at Richmond junior high school in a predominantly African American part of Portland. Their best friend, Essence, lives across the road and they hang out with three boys, Malachi, Ronnie and Devin. The friends notice a change in their neighbourhood as more white people move into the area. Shops are changing hands and being reopened as cafes and fashion outlets that seem to favour the more affluent white population. Essence's family have to move out as the landlord renovates their house and puts it on the market. It is bought by a white family with two kids of similar age; Nikki befriends Kate while Maya reluctantly gets to know Tony who is in their year at school. Kate and Nikki spend their time fashion shopping and visiting the new cafes much to Maya's annoyance. She feels her sister is abandoning their old friends and their heritage and the sisters grow apart. Richmond school is actively trying to project a more multicultural image which Maya, the student body president, feels is abandoning the school's African American heritage and she starts a campaign to celebrate African American high achievers. She feels there is no point lamenting the negatives without emphasising the many positives in their community. During the campaign she grows close to Tony and has to face her own prejudice and admit to having a white boyfriend.
This is a coming of age story of change, friendship and love underpinned by a thoughtful examination of African American identity which is relevant for all cultures trying to make their way in a changing world without losing what it means to part of their own community. The first person narrative makes the story very accessible as do the short, sometimes very short, chapters. A light touch which will appeal to teens discovering their own identity and seeking love.
Sue Speck

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