By Renée Watson
Available now from Bloomsbury Children's
Renée Watson's debut novel THIS SIDE OF HOME is the story of Maya's senior year at high school. It starts with a big change, when her best friend is evicted from the house across the street and has to move across town. The new family that moves in is white, just like most of the families moving into the historically black neighborhood.
Maya is passionate about her town, about the history of her neighborhood and school and the people who have lived there. She's angered by the gentrification, by the opportunities given to business owners moving that were denied to the black people who already live there and tried to get loans and backers. She's angered that when her school tries to present a better side to the press, something she supports as student council president, the principal forces them to tone down the blackness and present a multicultural lens that focuses on making sure the white students don't feel left out.
Maya is also confused. She and her twin sister, Nikki, and her best friend, Essence, have always planned to go to a historically black college. But now Nikki is friends with the new girl and looking at different schools. Essence isn't looking at college at all, but beauty school. And Maya finds herself falling for the boy across the street, instead of the nice boy she's been dating for ages. Can she stand up for her culture if she's dating a white boy?
I loved THIS SIDE OF HOME. Gentrification is a pressing issue in many cities, and Watson presents it in an understandable way. Like Nikki, many people appreciate new shops and restaurants and other nice things moving into a neighborhood. Like Maya, many people dislike it because they see the people who get forced out of their homes because they can no longer afford them. Like Essence, some are too busy figuring out how to make ends meet to care about the bigger picture. Watson presents a variety of voices and a variety of perceptions. Maya tries to do the right thing, but THIS SIDE OF HOME makes it clear that she isn't always right.
THIS SIDE OF HOME is a great novel for readers who like narrators with a strong voice and contemporaries that treat romance and friendship with equal importance. It's a multifaceted look at a community through the eyes of a teenage girl on the verge of a bright future. And I can only assume that Watson has a bright future as an author ahead of her.