Review Blog

May 10 2018

Piecing me together by Renee Watson

cover image

Bloomsbury, 2017. ISBN 9781681191058
(Age: Young Adult) For Jade, a young black woman living in New York who attends a school that offers specific help to students, particularly financial help for those who need it, the final years of high school are pivotal to her future. She has to travel a long distance to attend school and because of the straitened circumstances of her family's life, often has little to eat. Taking the opportunity to learn Spanish opens her mind to the meaning of words, and she embraces the opportunity to think about her world in a new way. We see the chapter headings as pertinent to the novel in that they reflect Jade's thoughts and her joy in incorporating her new knowledge into her life e.g. Chapter 10, presentar, to introduce.
To find out who she is and what possibilities exist for her in the future, she feels driven to seek answers from her everyday experience. This is limited, as her family struggles to have enough to eat, she has to travel a long distance by public transport to get to the school, and her mother needs to work long hours to support them, desperate to keep Jade in school to enable a better future for her. Fortunately, the school institutes a program that offers mentorships by women not too much older than the girls, and this is the door that offers hope.
We are gradually made aware of her family's poverty, yet, despite this her mother is determined that their life be one that is grounded in love and kindness. Watson's intention is to enable us to recognise immediately that Jade's family is decent, good and desperately clinging to the hope that Jade will be able to find a path to a more hopeful future. Her turning point arises when she decides to speak out about what is wrong with the program, suggesting that what girls like her need is not just what has been planned but what she has come to understand needs to be done.
Watson's writing is intensely powerful, without guile, and her narrator's voice is a call that does not excite agitation or a call for violent upheaval, structuring characters and plot that foregrounds the need for a rational and calm approach to the education of all minorities, one that will enable them to able to choose and thrive in the world, taking their place fairly and justly alongside all others.
This challenging book is exciting and uplifting in the hope it offers, setting a challenge for people who do not realise the level of poverty in which some people, impoverished by education and financial background, colour or race, manage to live, in big third-world cities such as New York.
The narrative fits perfectly into its niche, occurring in the present, modern world that foregrounds the claim for equality but too often falls short of this high ideal. It is suitable, and indeed highly recommended, for adolescents and adult reading, its clarity of issue never suppressing the wonderfully told narrative that captivates us to the last page. The characters are deftly drawn and match their circumstances, and the place, New York City, comes alive through the vivid construction of place by its writer. It is a compelling book precisely because it advocates change through ways that do not frighten people, rather calling for the recognition of the humanity of all and the need for us all to be equal, in all ways.
Elizabeth Bondar

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