Awkward, by Svetlana Chmakova

AwkwardAwkward
by Svetlana Chmakova
Pub Date: July 21, 2015

Peppi Torres has 2 Cardinal Rules for surviving school: #1- Don’t get noticed by the mean kids and #2- Seek out groups with similar interests and join them. Unfortunately for Peppi, she broke the first rule on her first day when she trips over her own feet, drops everything, and is helped by the nerdiest boy in school. What could she do when the mean kids start to tease her? She had to push the nerdy boy away from her. Now she has been in school for a couple months, and she still regrets pushing him. Peppi avoids him, especially when she realizes he is a member of the science club—the enemy of her art club.

This story is cute, and reminded me of my middle school days. I remember being the band geek that was so nervous about being noticed. Peppi and Jaime (the nerdy boy Peppi pushed) reminded me of those quiet kids in school, the ones who don’t say a word in class and dread being called on by the teacher. Throughout the story, Peppi learns she is stronger than she believed and that even the people who seem to have everything together have their own problems.

Not only was this graphic novel a sweet story of growing up, it also shows a variety of people without being forced. Most stories have the typical white, physically fit kids with maybe one character who has a different skin color. The illustrations in this book includes the beautiful black Miss Tobins, Jaime’s mother in a wheelchair, Akilah Saib in a hijab, and the middle school students who are all different sizes and shapes. After reading books for Black History Month in February, this aspect really stood out to me.

I would recommend this story to those who love to have a quick trip back in time to when life revolved around the school social hierarchy and an afterschool club could define your existence. It’s a sweet story about finding friends in the most unlikely places and working together to make something incredible.

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This Side of Home, by Renée Watson

This Side of HomeThis Side of Home
by Renée Watson
Pub Date: February 3, 2015

Stories about the last year of high school hold a special place in my heart right now as I watch my oldest niece approaching graduation and making plans for college.

Maya and Nikki Younger are twins who have done everything together. All their lives they have planned their future: they will graduate from high school with amazing grades, go to college at Spelman-a historical black woman’s college, and they will marry their boyfriends they have known all their lives. But like all idealized plans, life has some detours.

First, Maya and Nikki’s best friend/neighbor is forced to move. Second, the family who moves in is white and has a daughter who quickly becomes Nikki’s best friend. Third, the family next door also has a son who is more likeable and cute than Maya is ready to admit. Fourth, the new school principal keeps butting heads with Maya as senior class president. This is not the senior year Maya planned. Instead, Maya is forced to accept other people’s choices and that she can’t always be the model black girl.

I really appreciated this novel. I wasn’t sure I would relate to the main protagonist, Maya, since she seemed so focused on her identity as a black woman, while I am white and grew up in a town that was predominantly white. Still, Renée Watson does a good job of showing this aspect of Maya’s personality while also making her relatable to a wider audience. I admired Maya’s grit, intelligence, and tenacity. She focuses on the importance of family, friendship, and acknowledging history while looking to the future. This story made me think about different cultures, and how difficult the “race” questions can be even today. One of my favorite things about reading fiction is that I’m invited to see the world through a different perspective. This perspective opened my eyes. I am glad I read this book, and highly recommend it to others.