ARC Book Reviews · YA Book Reviews

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson (ARC)

Happy Sunday, bloggers! I’ve been MIA for a couple days while getting accustomed to a new medication, but today I feel very good and I can’t wait to talk about this book. Because it’s Sunday, I’m also going to dub this my Standalone Sunday post, but this is an ARC review first and foremost. I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not change how I feel about this book. 

My book for this week:

TitlePiecing Me Together by Renée Watson

Release date: February 14th, 2017

Genre: Young Adult – Realistic Fiction, Contemporary

Verdict: ☆☆☆☆☆

Jade believes she must get out of her neighborhood if she’s ever going to succeed. Her mother says she has to take every opportunity. She has. She accepted a scholarship to a mostly-white private school and even Saturday morning test prep opportunities. But some opportunities feel more demeaning than helpful. Like an invitation to join Women to Women, a mentorship program for “at-risk” girls. Except really, it’s for black girls. From “bad” neighborhoods.

But Jade doesn’t need support. And just because her mentor is black doesn’t mean she understands Jade. And maybe there are some things Jade could show these successful women about the real world and finding ways to make a real difference.

Friendships, race, privilege, identity—this compelling and thoughtful story explores the issues young women face.

We’re a little under 2 weeks into Black History Month, and although I’m not reading as much as I wanted to, I’m reassured knowing what I am reading are books that stand out. Piecing Me Together is about Jade, a junior at an elite private school, navigating her way around the multifarious areas of Portland and learning to use her voice when people try to “save” her from the ‘hood with opportunities that are more objectifying than rewarding. All Jade really wants from this school is a chance to study abroad in Argentina or Costa Rica, a place where she can continue to learn Spanish and get the opportunities she wants, instead of the ones people think she needs. This book shows us how this theme plays into all kinds of aspects of her life, from her relationship with her mother to her friendship with Sam, her experiences when out at fancy restaurants downtown with Maxine versus walking around North Portland with Lee Lee, how people treat her at school and at the mall and even in line at Dairy Queen. We see through her eyes how others look at her and see what they want to see, just a fat black woman living in the projects, but miss all the pieces that make up the whole of the big, beautiful soul who is the heart of this story.

As much as I enjoyed this book, it does have a couple of minor drawbacks, including a pacing style that took me a while to get used to. The book is told in a linear way that jumps across time sometimes chapter by chapter, so that 3 chapters ago it was Thanksgiving but now it’s the day after New Years. This is not helped by the fact that there are several very short chapters, so those 3 chapters equaled about 10 pages total. However, I ended up appreciating this kind of storytelling in the end, because it gives Watson more room to show rather than tell the readers what’s going on and the effect it has on Jade and everyone around her. I use the critique of “show, don’t tell” in a lot of books similar to this one, but Watson executes this goal flawlessly throughout the story.

One scene that stood out to me is the chapter where Maxine first comes over to Jade’s house, and Jade is worried that Maxine will comment on how poor they are instead of spending time getting to know Jade. Spoiler alert, Maxine’s pretty chill – and they actually spend the whole time sitting together for hours, taking out Jade’s braids. This scene made me realize that I’ve never seen that in a book before, any book, even though I know it’s a regular thing. I still don’t know how to describe it, but it feels like I learned something. Not how to take out braids – but like, an answer to a question I’d never asked, or even considered asking. I told my best friend (who is black, and has really gorgeous hair) about this, and she told me this wasn’t surprising, given the overwhelming majority of YA literature is centered around white characters with white authors who only tell one kind of story. I have been blissfully unaware of how rare it is to see a story that represents her in a realistic, honest to the bone way. This was one of those moments that gave me pause, and I’m seeing how blind I’ve been in a way I hadn’t even considered before.

There is another chapter around 75% of the way through the book that made my heart cry out, and my first thought was to write “I have no words,” but I know that isn’t true. For a few chapters, Jade has been thinking about Natasha Ramsey, a 15-year-old black girl who was brutalized by the police at a house party for nothing more than being loud and black. After her brother E.J. tells her about the incident, Natasha’s beating underscores the next several chapters that talk about praying but staying silent, white people who don’t think this – or any of the other microaggressions and injustices against Jade at the mall, at school, at her mentor’s house – are about race, and this chapter, these two pages. Jade, Lee Lee, and Andrea are walking from the corner store when they see a black woman getting pulled over by white cops. Jade says, “We walk closer. Stop at enough distance not to be noticed but close enough to be witnesses. […] There’s no commotion, but still, I start taking photos. I don’t know why. I just need to.” Jade hears a rattling sound, and realizes it’s the bag from the corner store that Lee Lee is holding, and she’s shaking so hard it’s making the bag shake too. Jade takes the bag from her hand and squeezes her empty palm, and Andrea puts her arm around Lee Lee to steady her as both girls try to console her and themselves, “It’s okay, Lee Lee. We’re okay. It’s okay. She’s fine. We’re fine. Everything’s okay.” Jade takes the photos from the scene and cuts them up to make a collage, but starts to cry while she works because of all of this grief she’s been holding in.

“Every tear I’ve been holding in goes onto the page.
Tears for Mom’s swollen ankles after a long day of work, for her jar of pennies. For every “almost,” for every “Things will be different next time.” Tears for what happened with Mrs. Weber, the lady at the mall, the boys at Dairy Queen.
[…]
Tears for every name of unarmed black men and women I know of who’ve been assaulted or murdered by police are inked on the page. Their names are whole and vibrant against the backdrop of black sadness.
Their names. So many, they spill off the page.”

I cried while reading this. I don’t know how Lee Lee feels because I’ve never experienced that fear for myself, but every time a new name surfaces of yet another unarmed black person killed by police, I hold my best friend a little tighter. I pray for her mom, and her dad, for her brother, for her little baby sister, and I am so glad it wasn’t one of them and they are safe. I am so angry that I feel that way, but also so scared deep in my bones that this keeps happening and nothing changes.

The book ends with an open mic/art expo in honor of Natasha Ramsey, and it is a really powerful climax that ends the book. I know most of my review was centered around something really depressing, but it was also necessary. Piecing Me Together is a collage of a young black dreamer, a work of art that shies away from nothing and no one. It celebrates black excellence and commemorates black lives lost. It closes on a moment that is an encouragement to speak up and be loud, and we will listen. It asks you to sit up and listen. And you do listen, again and again and again.


Are you planning on checking out this book? What other February releases are on your TBR list? Let me know in the comments below!

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6 thoughts on “Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson (ARC)

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