YA Fest continues with Piecing Me Together by Reneé Watson. I had hoped to hear Watson speak at the 5th Annual San Antonio Book Festival, but unfortunately, due to terrible storms in the northeast, her flight was canceled and she could not make it. Even so, I bought Piecing Me Together anyway and decided to give it a place during the month of June.
The Situation: Jade is determined to make it out of her neighborhood on the north side of Portland. She is already on the right path to do so by attending St. Francis High School, a private school in the nicer part of town. It may mean not attending Northside with her best friend, Lee Lee, but being a student at St. Francis means access to many opportunities Jade is constantly being encouraged to take advantage of. Sometimes that encouragement comes her guidance counselor, other times her own mother. But the opportunity Jade would like to take the most advantage of is the chance to travel outside of the country with the study abroad program. This is the opportunity that convinced Jade to attend St. Francis in the first place, and this year she is a junior, which means she is finally eligible to be nominated.
The Problem: Being one of the few black people in a predominantly white school comes with its problems, for sure. First is the difficulty of making friends. Then there is the potential of being judged for who you are and where you are from. Sure, it is nice to have people looking out for you, ready to provide "opportunities" for you, but that can also feel cheap and exhausting. And this latest opportunity - a mentorship program called Woman to Woman - looks like it will be joining the list. The only reason Jade agreed to it is because it comes with a college scholarship. But she does not feel as if her mentor really understands anything about her, or even cares to. Just because Maxine is black, it does not mean she can relate to Jade, which is a shame because Jade could use someone she can really talk to, someone who can understand her. Opportunities are nice, but what Jade would like more than anything is to be heard.
Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult fiction book set in modern day Portland, Oregon. Jade lives on the north side of Portland, in a neighborhood that the rest of the city is often wary of. But while others do not see the beauty in her neighborhood, Jade certainly does. In the little free time she has in between school, friends, family, and the Woman to Woman program, Jade makes collages out of pretty much anything she can get her hands on. She has mastered the art of taking what most of us view as garbage or junk, such as bags from fast food restaurants or free newspapers, and turning them into something beautiful and impressive. It is through her art that Jade is able to communicate the best, and her lack of willingness to simply open her mouth and speak up for herself is something she will have to reconcile later in the book. She is finally able to make friends with one other person at St. Francis, but that friendship is tested when Jade feels like Sam is just another person who not only does not understand her, but also constantly downplays incidents that occur due to Jade's race. And when it seems that Maxine is both proud of Jade and also completely out of touch with her, our protagonist feels misunderstood on all sides, frustrated by the feeling of not being seen or heard.
My Verdict: The characters are well formed and relatable. The setting of Portland is well done and a great choice. And the issues brought up are both timely and important for us to talk about and address. But I did not quite buy the interaction between the characters, nor was I able to easily follow much of the narrative, due to its choppy nature. The pacing of the story did not move as smoothly as I would have liked. It is well organized and the story follows a well-thought out timeline, but there are issues brought up that see little follow-up or closure, and some of interactions between the characters seem to come out of nowhere, with little background given as to how they got to where they are in the relationship. A little more time could have been taken to develop the characters and their backgrounds. With that being said, I did not feel like the story was rushed, just that some things were left out.
Favorite Moment: When Lee Lee talks about what she is learning at Northside. Even though it is not a prestigious school like St. Francis, Lee Lee's homework sounds much more interesting and relevant than Jade's.
Favorite Character: Lee Lee is someone who sticks by Jade despite the obvious challenge of not going to the same school as her. She is not jealous of any new opportunity Jade has, or even of the new friend Jade is able to make. Lee Lee simply lives her life and is there for her friend.
Favorite Quote: "Here I am, so focused on learning to speak another language, and I barely use the words I already know." - Jade
Recommended Reading: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas has become a YA powerhouse since its release earlier this year. Everyone should read it, especially if you are looking for more books with protagonists of color, and that deal with real issues in our current political and social climate.