BookBrowse Reviews Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson

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Piecing Me Together

by Renee Watson

Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson X
Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2017, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2018, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Bradley Sides

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A timely story that tackles race and class, and examines the power of art, community and friendship.

Race and class in American culture certainly dominate the news right now. These two things seem to divide people more than anything else. But it doesn't have to be this way, and literature can teach us this. Renee Watson's exquisite Young Adult novel Piecing Me Together restores faith into those who believe in humanity's inherent goodness – and those who believe in unity and opportunity among all races and classes.

Jade, a high school junior, is the protagonist of this story set in Portland, Oregon, and she's willing to do whatever it takes to achieve her dreams – even if that means leaving her home behind. She admits, "The universe was telling me that in order for me to make something of this life, I'd have to leave home, my neighborhood, my friends." And she does. Jade accepts a scholarship to a predominantly white school because she sees this move as her best opportunity to succeed. It is clear to her, immediately, that the change won't be without complications. She says, "I realized how different I am from everyone else at St. Francis. Not only because I'm black and almost everyone else is white, but because their mothers are the kind of people who hire housekeepers, and my mother is the kind of person who works as one." Jade continues to struggle with fitting into her new surroundings. Soon, though, opportunity strikes – just not in the way that Jade suspects.

When Jade is summoned to the guidance counselor's office, she believes that she's being invited to participate in a study abroad program, where she'll be able to work in various service learning projects. Instead, Jade finds out that her guidance counselor has recommended her for a mentor program called Women to Women, which helps "at-risk" girls, especially black girls from "bad" neighborhoods. While skeptical, Jade accepts the invitation because the potential opportunities are too good to pass up. She says, "Girls like me, with coal skin and hula-hoop hips, whose mommas barely make enough money to keep food in the house, have to take opportunities every chance we get." She finds herself plunged into a new world.

Watson beautifully navigates the different terrains in which Jade exists. At home, we learn more about Jade and her family, especially her sweet but strong relationship with her hard-working mother. We get to see Jade's insecurities and understand the issues that are closest to her heart. When Jade steps out with her mentor Maxine, a black woman who is a recent college graduate, we see a fearlessness that was hidden to us before. Jade seems transformed in many ways. Where her art once seemed more like an imagined hobby, when she goes out with Maxine, she sees that art can truly transform and shape the world. And, she sees that it can be a valuable part of her future.

Jade's art plays a crucial role in Piecing Me Together. It becomes a metaphor that reflects her and her journey throughout the story. She says, "Ever since elementary school, I've been making beauty out of everyday things – candy wrappers, pages of a newspaper, receipts, rip-outs from magazines. I cut and tear, arrange and rearrange, and glue them down, morphing them into something no one else thought they could be." Jade, the ordinary girl made of many people and backgrounds, makes this same beautiful revelation about herself by the novel's ending.

Part of what makes this story so wonderful is that Watson never condemns any one person or any one side of any issue. It's both the mentor and the mentee who offer wisdom. The old life and new lifestyle both offer healthy contributions to Jade's life. There is good to be found in the wealthy and the poor. Real life reflects this kind of weaving of disparate parts and Watson reminds us that when everything works together, we often have a healthier whole.

Renee Watson's Piecing Me Together is an inspiring novel, and one that all teenagers should read. The story is universal. After all, we all have pieces inside us that we are trying to put together in order to create something meaningful – and beautiful.

Reviewed by Bradley Sides

This review was originally published in March 2017, and has been updated for the June 2018 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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