Tuesday, January 20, 2015

ARC Review: This Side of Home by Renee Watson


 Publisher: Bloomsbury
Expected Publication Date: February 3, 2015
Genre: Realistic Contemporary (YA)
Source: ARC


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.

 Sometimes you have to rewrite your own history.
I have been struggling on this review for some time because I don't think any words can do it justice. Not only am I new to reading this author's works, I'm sad to say I haven't read many books where the main character African-American. It was highly refreshing to be reading something so thought-provoking and real.

Maya and Nikki are identical twins but they couldn't be more different. Nikki has a more free spirited personality, while Maya is more disciplined and driven. Both have been attached at the hip for as long as they can remember until their senior year. Senior year involves a lot of changes, and Maya isn't embracing the change like her sister Nikki. Nikki befriends the new neighbors (who happen to be white) that have moved next door with open arms, unlike Maya. In fact, she becomes best friends with the daughter, who is very curious about the African Community as a whole.

Maya thinks that's very inappropriate.

Their whole town changes more each day and all Maya wants to do is preserve the history there. The day the "white" family moves into the twins best friend's house, is the day that more change is to come. Then there is the son, Tony, who Maya gets a long with very well. They both have a bunch in common. But Maya is still a bit skeptical of him. Once you're able to get inside her mind, you'll see why.

This Side of Home deals with race, self-identity, and what it means to adjust to a different setting. Personally, I found the story to be eye-opening in a way that wasn't too in your face. Race is still a big issue in today's world and just because we don't see it, doesn't mean it doesn't happen.

Maya is a strong character and I felt myself empathizing with her internal and external struggles. It made the reader relate to her more as a character. There were times when I would shake my head at some of the things she would think and say. Then I would put myself in her shoes and think, if I were in her type of situation, I would have probably reacted the same exact way.

Renee Watson's voice is absolutely wonderful to read and I can guarantee you this won't be my last novel by her. Overall, I believe this is great coming of age story that readers of all ages should read. It has heart, and exceptionally well developed characters. I loved every minute of it. Also, I think the writing is brilliant.

*Review copy provided by Bloomsbury for an honest review. All thoughts are completely my own.

About the Author:

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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