Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on February 3, 2015
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Goodreads: ★★★★ 1/2
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.
I’ve been on such a YA contemporary kick lately, and This Side of Home is a great addition to the list. The story chronicles the life of twins Nikki and Maya as they finish up their last year of high school. Maya is our first-person narrator, and lets readers into her life in Portland, Oregon. The neighborhood in which she grew up is changing – new businesses are popping up everywhere, new families are moving in across the street, and Maya feels as if her culture and friends are being forced to leave. This Side of Home is the perfect combination of a contemporary YA story and a discussion on race relations.As Maya and Nikki take on their senior year of high school, they go through numerous struggles both at home and school. Nikki refuses to attend her best friend’s birthday party because she is afraid the guests will call her “white” due to her straight hair and love for vintage clothes. Maya, on the other hand, is the student body president at Richmond, her notoriously dangerous high school. Maya takes on her new principal as he tries to focus on diversity, and not on the black history that Maya craves to feature at school events.
While This Side of Home takes on a variety of serious issues, it is also a quick read that I flew through in just a few hours. I grew to love the characters, and I loved the balance between a realistic teenage love story, and the fight to overcome racism in a public high school. I was thoroughly impressed with the writing in This Side of Home, as it flowed easily and was at a steady pace throughout. If this is what a debut novel from author Renée Watson looks like, I’m excited to see what comes next!
At a time when the We Need Diverse Books campaign is at the forefront of readers’ minds, This Side of Home begins many important conversations. I was truly impressed with Watson’s ability to write characters that battle with the same struggles that we as readers have. There are no right answers to these questions, but This Side of Home helps us to open up and become comfortable with discussing these issues. I recommend it for all readers of contemporary young adult, and those craving a diverse book. This Side of Home is a refreshing and thought-provoking read.