Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Review: The Latte Rebellion by Sarah Jamila Stevenson

Found via: Reading in Color

I was super excited going into The Latte Rebellion, not only because it's one of the few YA books to prominently and proudly feature multiracial characters, but because I was also part of founding a social justice club in my high school (a Gay-Straight Alliance). I had a lot of infrastructure to fall back on in my case, as opposed to the creation of a new movement from the ground up as Asha, Carey and Miranda do here, but there were enough similarities that I was quite excited. And for the most part, the book doesn't disappoint.

The Latte RebellionIt all started as a joke, really. A small money-making venture to fund a pre-college vacation. Tired of being treated as foreign and somehow "less-than" by their peers, Asha and Carey found "The Latte Rebellion" - a website with a manifesto about recognizing that people don't always fit into one neat racial, ethnic or cultural category, and lots of links to buy their T-shirts. But almost overnight, the site goes viral and takes on a life of its own. Actual Latte Rebellion clubs spring up at high schools and colleges across the country - while ironically Asha's own high school refuses to recognize them, claiming that there isn't sufficient need for a club that openly embraces multiracial students.

Undeterred, Asha continues the rebellion, along with her friend Miranda, while Carey shies away from the increasing attention and time the rebellion takes away from her homework, work and relationships. Asha is nervous herself - especially as the rebellion continues to grow and attracts undesirable attention. But she is convinced of the rightness of her cause, and even as she faces severe repercussions for her involvement, Asha  is determined that the rebellion, and herself, is recognized as a positive force.

While in many ways this is very much a story about race, it is also about much broader and universal topics like self-confidence, friendship and education. I especially enjoyed how Asha's relationships mature and change over the course of the novel, as it reflects a lot of the changes people go through during life-altering events, even innocuous and positive ones like graduating high school and just growing up in general.

What held me back from unabashedly loving this is that a lot of the plot feels like it's based on coincidences rather than moving forward organically. I wasn't quite convinced with the reasoning for the school rejecting the Latte Rebellion in the first place, and the quick jump to conclusions about the purpose of the group seemed far too fast. Just a few too many negative coincidences to keep me totally immersed in the story. While I've read of complaints about the Latte Rebellion being organized as primarily a money-making venture, the only problem I had with the idea is that Asha and Carey still planned on keeping most/all of the money for themselves even as it became clear how important people felt the cause was. It seems to me like as soon as other people started getting involved, they would have demanded to know what the T-shirt profits were going to go towards. When it was just a couple of friends goofing off with a website, Asha and Carey were free to do whatever they wanted, but once real people in their lives got involved, it seems like the plan should have changed a bit.
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