Bloomsbury USA Childrens
February 3, 2015
add to Goodreads/buy from TBD/or Amazon
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
Maya, her identical twin sister, Nikki, and their best friend Essence are starting their senior year, just months away from starting college together. Or so Maya thinks. It's always been their plan to attend Spelman, a historically black college, together, but now Nikki is talking about other schools and Essence isn't even looking at colleges.
Suddenly, or so it seems to Maya, the sister she's always done everything with together, been side by side forever, seems to be drifting from her. Nikki is embracing the changes in their neighborhood, the new businesses, the new neighbors. Maya wonders why it seems no black business owners could get loans.
Gentrification is an issue in a lot of cities. As Maya says to Nikki,"'Something . . . has allowed this to be normal, that poor communities get remade and their people are forced to move. Have you ever seen it the other way around? Ever?'" (pg 63). It's not that she doesn't want things to improve, she just doesn't want it to be done by (and seemingly for) other people.
The sisters' opposing views on the changes work really well alongside the divergence of the two girls and their relationship. Maya is resisting the changes as best she can, not visiting the stores, being wary of her new neighbors, trying to hold Nikki and Essence to their old college plans.
But one of those new neighbors may not be equally ready to write Maya off. As the world around her - at school, at home, in her relationships, possibly even her future - continues to change, Maya is forced to reexamine some beliefs and hold fast to others.
This Side of Home is Renée Watson's debut YA novel and, I'm hoping, not her last. The girls are at an important time in their lives and the decisions, questions and insecurities they're facing are very real. There is a great balance between Maya's worries about her relationships and what is happening in her neighborhood and the two work together well.
Watson's writing is also fantastic. She's able to quickly give a short but impactful description of where the girls live, to describe characters beautifully and show Maya's feelings on the changes:
'This isn't supposed to happen here,' as if this is a place where we should be accustomed to tragedy." (pg 4), "You don't need to be in a similar situation to experience Maya, Nikki and Essence's story. Author Renee Watson brings the girls, their lives and experiences to life and brings readers into the characters' world and story.
"They've painted and planted and made beauty out of decaying dreams." (pg 11)
"Essence's mom is a cracked vase. A woman who used to hold beauty." (pg 14)
digital copy received for review from publisher, via NetGalley - thank you!