Monday, June 7, 2010

Book Review: Finding My Place by Traci L. Jones (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2010)

Recommended for ages 10 and up

In 1975, Tiphanie (pronounced Tiffany!) has more to worry about than what to wear on the first day of school. Tiphanie's family has just moved from a largely minority neighborhood in Denver to an expensive suburb, where she is the only black girl at her new high school. Tiphanie narrates the story, and her chapters are interspersed with lectures from her upper-middle class parents, such as "The Talented Tenth Lecture," where they remind her that she has to work twice as hard as her white classmates, or "The company you keep lecture," where they remind her that her friends are a reflection on her. When no one wants to talk to Tiphanie at school except another social outcast, Jackie Sue, who grandly refers to herself as "walking talking trailer trash," the two of them decide to form the Oreo squad, a new group among the high school cliques.

But when Jackie Sue won't defend Tiphanie against racial slurs by another classmate, Tiphanie's not sure what kind of friend Jackie Sue really is. Jackie Sue seems to have a lot of secrets, ones that she can't or won't share with Tiphanie. Moreover, Tiphanie's not sure how she fits in anymore-- her friends from the old neighborhood warn her not to start turning her back on her people by hanging around too many white kids. Her parents, on the other hand, are anxious for her to make friends with "young ladies from better circumstances," such as the black kids from Booker and Breeze, a social and civic organization for well-to-do black families.

In this novel, Traci Jones examines serious issues of prejudice with a terrific sense of humor--I laughed out loud at numerous places in the novel. She explores overt prejudice against blacks--such as the biased math teacher who doesn't believe that black children belong in her honors math class, or Tiphanie's classmate Clay, who makes blatantly racist remarks, but also more subtle types of prejudice, such as Jackie Sue thinking that Tiphanie will want to date the only black boy at their high school, just because they're the same race. She also incorporates prejudice of an economic type; for example, Tiphanie's parents don't want her to socialize with Jackie Sue because she comes from "trailer trash."

I found Finding My Place to be a very enjoyable story. While it is likely to appeal more to girls than boys, it's a story that can appeal to kids of any ethnic background, since its exploration of friendship, adapting to a new environment, and overcoming various forms of prejudice should be of interest to any teen or tween. This would be an excellent novel to purchase for school and public libraries, as well as for summer reading.

1 comment:

Mary Ann Scheuer said...

I just adore the cover, and know that many kids (you're right, mainly girls) will pick it up just because of the snazzy colors. It sounds like it really lived up to the premise - thanks for the review and the recommendation! It's definitely going on the "wish list" for our school library!