Eleven-year-old Isabella’s blended family is more divided than ever in this thoughtful story about divorce and racial identity from the award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of Out of My Mind, Sharon M. Draper.
Eleven-year-old Isabella’s parents are divorced, so she has to switch lives every week: One week she’s Isabella with her dad, his girlfriend Anastasia, and her son Darren living in a fancy house where they are one of the only black families in the neighborhood. The next week she’s Izzy with her mom and her boyfriend John-Mark in a small, not-so-fancy house that she loves.
Because of this, Isabella has always felt pulled between two worlds. And now that her parents are divorced, it seems their fights are even worse, and they’re always about HER. Isabella feels even more stuck in the middle, split and divided between them than ever. And she’s is beginning to realize that being split between Mom and Dad is more than switching houses, switching nicknames, switching backpacks: it’s also about switching identities. Her dad is black, her mom is white, and strangers are always commenting: “You’re so exotic!” “You look so unusual.” “But what are you really?” She knows what they’re really saying: “You don’t look like your parents.” “You’re different.” “What race are you really?” And when her parents, who both get engaged at the same time, get in their biggest fight ever, Isabella doesn’t just feel divided, she feels ripped in two. What does it mean to be half white or half black? To belong to half mom and half dad? And if you’re only seen as half of this and half of that, how can you ever feel whole?
It seems like nothing can bring Isabella’s family together again—until the worst happens. Isabella and Darren are stopped by the police. A cell phone is mistaken for a gun. And shots are fired.--from the publisher
320 pages 978-1442495005 Ages 8-12
“Sit yourself down at the piano
Just about in the middle”
--Graham Nash, “Black Notes”
“Dylan Roof, white male, murdered 9 African Americans in a church, taken alive into custody.
Robert Bowers, white male, murdered 11 Jewish worshipers in church, taken alive.
Gregory A. Bush, white male, murdered 2 African Americans in a grocery store, taken alive.
Jemel Roberson, black security officer doing his job, shot and killed by police while literally saving lives in a nightclub.”
-- comment in response to yesterday’s Washington Post article, “‘They basically saw a black man with a gun’: Police kill armed guard while responding to call” (11/12/18)
It’s Sunday. I hate Sundays. I hate, hate, hate them. Even when I’m a wrinkled old lady, Sunday will always remind me of a worn, gray fake-leather sofa at the mall. It’s where Dad sits to wait for me when it’s his turn for custody for the week. Mom waits on the same couch on the opposite week. The stupid sofa never changes--just the faces of the grown-ups who come to claim me. I’m pretty sure my parents hate Sundays too.
Today, Dad waits stiffly, tapping his fingers, like he can’t relax until this is over. Probably true! He is never late. Anastasia sits beside him, She, at least, is smiling. Her shoes and purse are probably real leather--very fancy looking. She’s dressed in an amber-tone wool suit that’s almost the same color she is. Probably took her hours to do her face and hair. I touch the fuzzy frizz I call mine; it’s bushed out of the scrunchie. Again.
But today I break into a wide smile as Mom and I approach them, because Anastasia’s son, Darren, has come with them. He’s...well, not to sound like a fan girl, but he’s totally cool. He knows how to dress so he looks really sharp without looking like he worked at it, and he’s got a gravelly sounding voice that makes my friends get all kinds of silly.
I glance back guiltily at Mom, who is pale and tired looking, trying to scrape a stain off her Waffle House uniform with her fingernail. John Mark, in his favorite blue bowling shirt, walks on the other side of me. They’re speed-walking because we are late. Again. I wonder if other people are watching us, like we’re some kind of reality TV show. The caption would read: ‘Chocolate family meets vanilla family in the artificial reality that is a mall. Caramel daughter is caught helplessly between the two.’
When we get to the sofa, Mom simply nods curtly at my father and Anastasia, gives me a forehead kiss, then turns and hurries away with John Mark. Dad nods as well. No need to exchange words, just me. They’ve got that head-nodding thing down to a science.”
BLENDED is a contemporary novel for children about a child of divorce. It features a multiracial eleven year-old named Isabella Badia Thornton who lives in the Cincinnati metropolitan area . Izzy’s Black dad is a successful attorney and her blonde mom is a waitress. Each parent is now settled into a subsequent relationship.
Isabella’s big challenge is to repeatedly adjust to the ebb and flow of alternating weeks with each parent, and to perform successfully at an upcoming piano recital.
But that’s not, to me, what this story is primarily about.
In BLENDED, Sharon M. Draper performs an incredible writing feat: she graphically and age-appropriately portrays racism in today’s U.S.A for an 8 year-and-up audience. The real story takes off when, at the conclusion of a gym class, a noose is discovered hanging in the gym locker of one of Isabella’s best friends, Imani.
We immediately suspect a white classmate named Logan who has recently joked about nooses and hangings, relative to a teacher’s American history lesson about how “sometimes it takes a really bad thing to bring about positive change.” Imani vigorously protested the classmate’s behavior and Logan receives an hour’s detention for his shenanigans. Might this have caused Logan to then up the ante? Sure enough, a few days later, authorities disrupt the class and remove Logan.
The incident helps prompt Isabella to wonder aloud about her own identity: “‘I’ve got friends who are white. And friends who are Black. We’ve got kids at our school from all races--and most of the time we kinda blend without thinking about it, like cookie dough. But this noose thing with Imani has really changed the recipe, at least for me.’
Mom waits for a tick, then asks, ‘How do you mean?’
‘Because I am that dough, Mom! Am I the chocolate chip or the vanilla bean? I’m really not sure.’”
The story portrays several racist encounters experienced by Izzy and her young Black friends. I found it really effective that these episodes didn’t become central to the plot, but did feel like the young characters were periodically interrupted by some random white person giving them a figurative smack upside the head for no reason beyond the color of their skin. I believe that many a young person will readily empathize with being in Izzy’s shoes.
The climax of the story absolutely knocked my socks off. It doesn’t matter that this is fiction. Just hours after reading the reports about the late 26 year-old Jemel Roberson, I cried over what happens to Izzy Thornton, and about what is still so damned wrong with this country.
No, Izzy isn’t shot dead like Jemel. Honestly, this is a book you can read to an eight or nine year-old. But my thinking is that BLENDED would ideally be taught to fourth or fifth graders.
320 pages 978-1-4424-9500-5 Ages 8-12
Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA
See more of his recommendations: Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.