Saturday, November 14, 2020

YA Review: Don't Ask Me Where I'm From by Jennifer De Leon

Title: Don't Ask Me Where I'm From

Author: Jennifer De Leon

Year Published: 2020

Category: YA fiction
Pages: 336
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2020 Google Reading map)USA (MA)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): First-generation American LatinX Liliana Cruz does what it takes to fit in at her new nearly all-white school. But when family secrets spill out and racism at school ramps up, she must decide what she believes in and take a stand.

Liliana Cruz is a hitting a wall—or rather, walls.

There’s the wall her mom has put up ever since Liliana’s dad left—again.

There’s the wall that delineates Liliana’s diverse inner-city Boston neighborhood from Westburg, the wealthy—and white—suburban high school she’s just been accepted into.

And there’s the wall Liliana creates within herself, because to survive at Westburg, she can’t just lighten up, she has to whiten up.

So what if she changes her name? So what if she changes the way she talks? So what if she’s seeing her neighborhood in a different way? But then light is shed on some hard truths: It isn’t that her father doesn’t want to come home—he can’t…and her whole family is in jeopardy. And when racial tensions at school reach a fever pitch, the walls that divide feel insurmountable.

But a wall isn’t always a barrier. It can be a foundation for something better. And Liliana must choose: Use this foundation as a platform to speak her truth, or risk crumbling under its weight.
 
Review: I already had this book on my shelf when I learned that the author graduated from the same college as me: Connecticut College. So I moved this to the top of my to-read list because I have got to support a fellow camel (yeah, we're the only one-humped camels in the country. So proud).

I'll admit that it took me a the first 30 pages or so to get into this book. I was thinking, ok, BIPOC character attends a rich, white school and has trouble adjusting. Then, I was sucked in. I don't know what changed, but boy this is a good one. Yes, there are some plot lines that you will expect, but I realize that's because they are real. To be a student of color or a student who is not middle or upper class in a school like Liliana's is difficult and needs to be addressed.

I like that this novel has the teachers and administrators, not just the students, making dumb-ass remarks that are thoughtless because that happens all the time. And we see Liliana and the other METCO students (those who have been "allowed" to attend this school) responding with anger, which it totally understandable. But, I love that they organize themselves and find a way to deal with the issues head on. Is everything perfect? No. Is everybody antiracist at the end? No. But the reader can see that there is a path this school can choose to take that will be better for all of its staff and students.

And the title is perfect.

Challenges for which this counts: 

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