Jade believes the only way she’ll find success is to get out of her neighborhood. That’s why she accepts a scholarship to a privileged, mostly white school. It’s why she puts her studies first—no time for boys, no time for goofing around. As a girl from a poor neighborhood, Jade knows she must appreciate the opportunities that come her way, even those that treat her as less-than. When she joins a mentorship program meant to help “at-risk” (read: black) girls, Jade’s frustration mounts. How is her so-called mentor supposed to teach her anything when she doesn’t have her own life together? How are the group’s pointless activities supposed to change anything for her?
As Jade wrestles with the injustices in her life, she begins to realize the only way things will change is for her to find her own voice, to speak up, and challenge the people around her. Her courage and vulnerability make her story deeply moving and accessible. When she shares her experiences with racism with a white friend, at one point her friend sort of shrugs and says, “I don’t know what you want me to say.” Jade’s ability to articulate this response—support me, believe me, she tells her friend—opens conversation and dialogue about race relations issues.
Overall, this is a rich story. Though Jade’s experiences may be different than some readers, it’s easy to connect with her, to love her, and to understand how she feels and why. It’s easy to cheer for her victories, as a young woman and an artist. I loved that she’s a collagist, and I loved the way her art was a key component of the story. I loved the way history (the story relates some information about York, an African American man who traveled with Lewis and Clark) and poetry played a key role in the story as well.
I definitely recommend this book to readers who enjoy contemporary fiction or novels about art and friendship.
Jade, her family, and her best friend Lee Lee are African American. Her mentor comes from a wealthy African American family. Her friend Sam is a white girl being raised by her grandparents. Jade is studying Spanish hoping for an opportunity to travel in an educational program. Each chapter begins with a Spanish word translated to English.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Jade attends a meeting with her mentorship group that focuses on dating and relationships. She’s not interested in either one, and the conversation stays pretty vague.
Jade comes home to her mom listening to gospel music and cleaning. Following a terrible event, Jade asks her uncle to say a prayer. He calls prayer a “poor man’s drug,” and tells Jade the person she needs to be talking to isn’t God but politicians who can make changes. Jade prays anyway.
Four police officers beat up an unarmed fifteen-year-old black girl when they break up a party. Jade and her friend hear about it on the news, but feel shaken up.