Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Review: Finding My Place by Traci L. Jones

Found via: Publisher's Weekly 6/1

All it took was the Publisher's Weekly review mentioning that this book looks at the intersection of race and class for me to add this to my TBR list. Very few -isms, be that racism, sexism, classism, among others, act independently - instead they're a complicated combination, and I was excited to see how race and class might be handled in a middle grade/YA title.

Finding My PlaceTiphanie Baker is the daughter of former civil-rights activists. She's grown up happily in a predominantly black neighborhood in Colorado, until shortly before the start of her freshman year, when her parents accept prestigious new jobs that enable them to move to a predominantly white suburb of Denver, and enroll Tiphanie in a predominantly white school. On the first day of school she gets a lecture about doing her part to "uplift the race," reminding her her actions will reflect on African-Americans as a group in the minds of her white classmates.

Tiphanie is met with stares, curiosity, and a little bit of outright hostility in her new school - including a teacher who doesn't believe Tiphanie belongs in an accelerated math class. No one seems eager to befriend her, except Jackie Sue, a white hippie chick who proudly calls herself trailer trash. Both of them outsiders, the girls form a tight friendship. Tiphanie is willing to overlook Jackie Sue's eccentricities, and even the obvious secrets she's harboring about her family. Tiphanie's parents, on the other hand, are less than thrilled to see their solidly middle class daughter is hanging out with the girl lowest on the class totem pole. As her friendship with Jackie Sue grows, Tiphanie finds herself wrestling with her values, and the values of her family.

I loved reading about Tiphanie. She's smart, funny and witty, and a compassionate person. As she becomes more comfortable around her white classmates, she wonders if she's turning her back on her old friends, perhaps even inadvertently turning her back on her race. However, when she does hang out with her old friends, there's definitely been a change in their relationships. Some of it is the natural evolution of friendships when you don't see each other every day, but at least one person thinks Tiphanie's trying too hard to fit in at her new school. On the flip side, when her parents start suggesting that maybe there are more appropriate friends than the lower-class Jackie Sue, Tiphanie shows how fiercely loyal she can be, noting that Jackie Sue was the only person willing to be friendly from day one.

This didn't seem to look at the intersections of race and class so much as it looked at racism and classism separately as part of the same overall story. Tiphanie and her parents face both overt and subtle racism, while Jackie Sue faces mostly overt classism, even from Tiphanie's parents (who mostly judge her based on her drunken mother). I still very much enjoyed it, it just wasn't quite what I was expecting going in.

Finally, can I just say how much I love the cover? The super bright flower-power colors evoke the setting and really make Tiphanie's silhouette stand out. I love that even in a silhouette it's fairly obvious she's African-American, and her pose is confident, like she can take on the world. One of the best covers I've seen in awhile.

1 comment:

MissAttitude said...

Have I told you how envious I am of all the books you read? You seem to get to all my WoW picks before I do!

I'm glad to hear this book is good. I've been wanting to read it but I was disappointed by the lack of reviews I was finding (yours is the first I've seen).

I love that it's set in the '70s and deals with racism and class, although I do wish the two issues were combined.

I adore the cover as well :)

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