Published by Bloomsbury Publishing on February 8th, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Jade believes she must get out of her poor neighborhood if she's ever going to succeed. Her mother tells her to take advantage of every opportunity that comes her way. And Jade has: every day she rides the bus away from her friends and to the private school where she feels like an outsider, but where she has plenty of opportunities. But some opportunities she doesn't really welcome, like an invitation to join Women to Women, a mentorship program for "at-risk" girls. Just because her mentor is black and graduated from the same high school doesn't mean she understands where Jade is coming from. She's tired of being singled out as someone who needs help, someone people want to fix. Jade wants to speak, to create, to express her joys and sorrows, her pain and her hope. Maybe there are some things she could show other women about understanding the world and finding ways to be real, to make a difference.
Sometimes I just want to be comfortable in this skin, this body. Want to cock my head back and laugh loud and free, all my teeth showing, and not be told I’m too rowdy, too ghetto.
It’s a shame that one book release on a certain topic – such as The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – can create such a buzz, whereas others focusing on similar, if not the same, topics are easily overlooked. Both of these books focus on race, injustice, and inequality, but go about addressing these themes in a very different manner.
While The Hate U Give addresses blunt police violence against black individuals, Piecing Me Together zooms in on a more subtle form of aggression, namely micro aggressions. It is a quiet, slow, and character-driven book about self-love, dreams, friendship, and the power of art. This book talks about what it means to be a black, to be a woman, and that having the same skin colour does not necessarily result in mutual understanding.
Though contemporary is not my go-to genre, I find myself enjoying it so much when I feel like a book is expanding my knowledge on issues I cannot relate to and teaching me something about life. Piecing Me Together is that kind of book. I found myself writing down quotes every other page. Though I consider myself a person who is aware of many struggles POC experience in their daily lives, this book has opened my eyes to a great deal more.
My neighborhood is full of big dreamers. But I know that doesn’t mean those dreams will come true.
In many ways, Piecing Me Together is in line with other books and addresses issues that sound familiar. The main character Jade has been awarded a scholarship to a mostly-white private school, and she struggles with fitting in, being treated differently, and being given opportunities she feels forced to take if she wants to fulfill her ambitious dreams. What Piecing Me Together does extremely well is presenting a nuanced introspection and considering multiple perspectives to every issue. To me, as a white person, it seemed like Jade was granted many opportunities to strive for success; to Jade, as a black person, it seemed like white folks were telling her in how many ways her life needed fixing. This is just one of many examples of how Piecing Me Together looks at things not as black and white but as grey, and thus opened my eyes to things I wouldn’t have considered before.
Though this book seemed like it was going to display a narrative similar to books like The Hate U Give, it features a different take on class and racial divides. What sets Piecing Me Together apart from other books on black youth is its thematising of inequality and class divides within race. Jade struggles to connect with her mentor Maxine, a black woman growing up in a wealthy family, just as much as her white friend Sam struggles to connect with the other wealthy white girls at school. This book shows how the racial divide affects Jade’s friendship with a white girl and how the class divide affects Jade’s relationship with her black mentor. I have never read a book which thematised divides within race, or not to this extent, and I was extremely impressed with how multi-faceted Piecing Me Together addressed race as a whole.
I try to let the music wash away that feeling that comes when white people make you feel special or stupid for no good reason. I don’t know how to describe that feeling, just to say that it’s kind of like cold, sunny days. Something is discomforting about a sun that gives not heat but keeps shining.
Everyday micro aggressions, such as being the subject of scrutiny in stores, are brought into play to illustrate both Jade’s struggles as a black teen and her struggles as a black teen in a friendship with a white teen. Jade is convinced these things happen because she’s black, while Sam dives into a different reasoning. Piecing Me Together‘s aim is not to clarify who is right, but to show that Jade just needed to be heard but instead received dismissal. This is so important for every aspect of our lives, not just issues of race. We need to listen and take into consideration the opinion of others, regardless of whether we agree with them or not. It’s not being disagreed with that hurts, but being shut out, overlooked, ignored. Learning to speak up is a major anchor point of Jade’s character development. Throughout the story, she learns to use her voice to protest injustice, to receive things she wants, and to fix friendships she needs. A lot of expression is also done through her artwork (collaging, by which the title was inspired) which focuses on her struggles as a person but also the overall struggles of many black Americans. Though not a dominant theme, Jade describing herself as a bigger girl allows for Piecing Me Together to further address identity, beauty standards, and self-worth.
Things That Are Black and Beautiful:
A Starless Night Sky
Overall, Piecing Me Together takes a unique and excellent standpoint on issues of race, social status, and their impact within and across race and class. To me, this reading experience was a novelty. It is a coming-of-age story with an engaging, multi-faceted narration and a powerful message. Piecing Me Together provides proof that hidden gems can be found in the shadows of popular releases (even if I liked said popular books), and I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a contemporary that packs a punch.
**I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.**