This Side of Home by Renée Watson

Tackling the bigger societal issues of race, gentrification and cultural identification is a huge undertaking and wholly daunting. Renée Watson brings us the tale of twin sisters, Nikki and Maya (both named after lauded African American poets) come from a neighborhood that is a little run down, lacking in diversity, and about to undergo a large change.

This Side of Home:

While Nikki is more open to the earlier changes and sees opportunities that her sister Maya may miss, the whole plethora of issues large and small are tackled from the perspective of one young girl who is struggling to find her own place in the changing landscape.  Beautifully written with concepts that are far more complex broken into smaller, easy to relate-to pieces, this story gives readers to see into the turmoil and tumult, concerns and questions that arise, and see just how much things need to change to actually make impacts that are more than superficial.

Maya starts out a little close-minded and perhaps incorrect in her beliefs and behavior as she faces the change around her.  Still reeling from the loss of her best friend, she is hurting and can only relate to the rest of the changes from that perspective. Introducing Tony to show her that stepping away and looking at situations from a distance can improve her perspective was a welcomed addition to the story, and gives her the ability to see the positive in the changes, not just the list of issues still unaddressed.

Strongly feeling the slow diminishment of her ‘black culture’ that has always been important to her, Maya needs to learn that you can carry your self-identification with you everywhere you go, and insert it into your situations: but to only experience one way of things is lessening your own potential and experience, and just as remaining true to who you are is important, retaining the ability to adapt and grow as all things change is more so.

I loved the approach of this story, showing the girls learning and coming to realize that not all changes mean that they are leaving something behind, but that they can find enrichment and enjoyment in more ways.  Accepting that change happens is part of getting older and learning who you are and will be.  A bit more message-driven, although most of the messages are subtly woven into the tale and shown as the girls grow, this is a great story to introduce tweens and teens to the larger issues of racial identity and diversity.

This Side of Home by Renée Watson

Title: This Side of Home
Author: Renée Watson
Genre: Young Adult, Multi-Cultural
Published by: Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN: 054587324X
Published on: 3 February, 2015
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Pages: 336
Rated: four-stars
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Identical twins Nikki and Maya have been on the same page for everything—friends, school, boys and starting off their adult lives at a historically African-American college. But as their neighborhood goes from rough-and-tumble to up-and-coming, suddenly filled with pretty coffee shops and boutiques, Nikki is thrilled while Maya feels like their home is slipping away. Suddenly, the sisters who had always shared everything must confront their dissenting feelings on the importance of their ethnic and cultural identities and, in the process, learn to separate themselves from the long shadow of their identity as twins.

In her inspired YA debut, Renée Watson explores the experience of young African-American women navigating the traditions and expectations of their culture

A copy of this title was provided via Publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.

About Renée Watson

Renée Watson is the author of the children’s picture book, A Place Where Hurricanes Happen (Random House, June 2010), which was featured on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams. Her middle grade novel, What Momma Left Me debuted as the New Voice for 2010 in middle grade fiction by The Independent Children's Booksellers Association.

Renée’s one woman show, Roses are Red, Women are Blue, debuted at New York City's Lincoln Center at a showcase for emerging artists. Her poetry and articles have been published in Rethinking Schools, Theatre of the Mind and With Hearts Ablaze.

When Renée is not writing and performing, she is teaching. Renée has worked in public schools and community organizations as an artist in residence for several years, teaching poetry, fiction, and theater in Oregon, Louisiana, and New York City. She also facilitates professional development workshops for teachers and artists.

One of Renée’s passions is using the arts to help youth cope with trauma. She has facilitated poetry and theatre workshops with young girls coping with sexual and physical abuse, children who have witnessed violence, children coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and children who relocated to New York City after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Renée graduated from The New School, where she studied Creative Writing and earned a certificate in Drama Therapy.

Renée currently lives in New York City.



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