Booktalking: "This Side of Home" by Renee Watson
Identical twins Maya and Nikki, and their neighbor and friend since childhood, Essence, comprise a dynamic triumvirate... or so Maya thought. As the girls grow older, though, things change, and their ideas of how life will be do not necessarily come to fruition.
Growth and change derail their plans, and not always for the best. Essence's mother cannot stay sober and Essence suffers. Worse, gentrification has caused their landlord to price them out of the neighborhood.
Institutionalized racism also plagues the girls' lives. The students at the girls' high school do not get new books like kids at more privileged schools, and the twins' mother drives them to the other side of town because the parks are better there. School officials do not want the kids to end up as statistics: dead, in jail, addicted to drugs, or members of gangs.
Being constantly defined by her race wears on Maya. When she is in a store, she is asked to check her belongings while white customers peacefully shop with much larger bags. What she would give simply to be referred to as a person, and not always as a black person.
Maya and her friends are convinced that youth of color need to be portrayed in a more positive light. She is newly elected the student council president, but is shocked to find that it is merely a figurehead position while the school principal pulls the strings. He bans a Black History Month celebration—against the student council's advice—and replaces it with a diversity luncheon.
Although Maya and her boyfriend, Devin, always planned to marry, they are growing apart—Devin is considering a college that Maya will not attend. Meanwhile, Maya loves talking to Tony, a possible relationship she wants to keep secret because she is troubled that Tony is white. Adding to the constant presence of race in their lives is the fact that Maya's sister Nikki's new friend, Kate, is also Tony's sister.
With This Side of Home, Renee Watson has produced another stellar novel about gentrification, racism, and the drama of being a teenage girl.