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Monday, December 23, 2019

Color Me In Authentic, But Has Issues

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Although she's the daughter of a Black mom and a white, Jewish dad, 15-year-old Navaeh Levitz has never had to think much about her mixed ethnicity.  With her light skin, she can "pass" as white, blending in well enough in the affluent New York City suburb where she lives.  As far as her Jewish roots, her father is not religious and has never pressed the family to attend synagogue.  All that changes when her dad's affair leads her parents to a bitter divorce.  

When Navaeh and her mom move to Harlem to live with Navaeh's grandparents, she experiences some major culture shock.  Not only is she dealing with her mom's severe depression, but she also has to listen to her cousins mock her for not being Black enough to understand the prejudice they deal with every day because of their darker skin.  As if that's not enough, Navaeh's father decides out of the blue that she needs to have a bat mitzvah.  He sics a rabbi on her tail to help her cram for the big event that Navaeh doesn't even want to have.  Stuck in the middle, Navaeh has to decide who she really is, where she fits in, and how to make the various pieces that define her come together to create a harmonious whole.  A tall order, even when you're not dealing with warring parents, in-your-face cousins, a dogged rabbi, and all the heavy emotions that come with falling in love for the first time.  What's a stressed-out, confused girl to do?

As the adoptive mother of a bi-racial daughter, I'm always interested in books like Color Me In, a debut YA novel by Natasha Diaz.  Racial identity, racism, and finding one's own voice, are themes I'm fascinated by, so this story sounded like it was right up my alley.  Navaeh's search for herself is by far the best part of Color Me In, especially because Diaz is a mixed-race woman who's no doubt struggled with the same questions Navaeh does.  It lends Navaeh's fictional experiences credibility and authenticity.  Unfortunately, our heroine does not really have a concrete story goal to drive the plot of Color Me In, leading the novel to feel overwritten and way too long.  It meanders here, there, and everywhere, touching on lots of different issues, some of which are explored in the story and some that aren't.  Add to that cliché characters, tired stereotypes, and a main character who's whiny, self-centered, and victim-y, and yeah, this debut has some issues.  While I didn't end up loving this novel, I do think Diaz writes well; I'll keep an eye out for whatever she does next.

(Readalikes:  I've seen Color Me In compared to Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo several times, although I haven't read Poet X.  The book does remind me of the following novels I have read: SLAY by Brittney Morris, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow, The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods, and Black Boy, White School by Brian F. Walker.)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (a few F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, nudity, and depictions of underage drinking/partying and illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

1 comment:

  1. I don't remember this one feeling long for me, but I did feel like the father was very cliche. I think I was forgiving of that, since the mother's family was so well written.


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