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From the Stacks: Coming-of-age story 'Piecing Me Together' reflects on timely social issues

From the Stacks: Coming-of-age story 'Piecing Me Together' reflects on timely social issues

March 4th, 2018 by Courtney Waters, For the News Tribune in Life & Entertainment

Jade is getting ready to start her junior year at a prestigious private school in Portland, Oregon. This is finally the year when Jade might get nominated to study abroad, something she has eagerly anticipated since accepting a scholarship to St. Francis just before her freshman year. In fact, the chance to study abroad was one of the main reasons Jade choose to attend St. Francis instead of going to the public school in her own neighborhood across town. When Jade is called into her guidance counselor's office, she fully expects to discuss a nomination for studying abroad. Instead, her guidance counselor urges her to sign up for Woman to Woman, a mentoring program for "at-risk" girls. Jade is crestfallen, but reluctantly agrees due to the promise of a college scholarship upon completion of the program.

Jade has never seen herself as "at-risk" but knows she fits the stereotype: she's black, she's overweight, she's poor. She's skeptical of what she can possibly learn from Woman to Woman, a feeling that is quickly validated when her mentor Maxine turns out to be unreliable and somewhat naive. Jade knows Maxine is trying and decides she's going to do her best to complete the program, in spite of her misgivings.

As Jade works on making the most of the "opportunity" she's been given, she still has to reconcile her dreams for a better future with the reality of her life now. It feels like everything's working against her. Everyone — her mother, her friends, her teachers, even Maxine — seems to be making frustrating assumptions about Jade. She's tired of being seen as someone who needs to be given special opportunities. She'd rather have the opportunity to show all that she has to offer the world.

Author Renee Watson's introspective, character-driven novel, "Piecing Me Together," effortlessly balances a satisfying coming-of-age story with important and timely issues like race, class, privilege and body image. Jade is a character readers will relate to and root for; her journey feels authentic and her rewards feel well-earned. It is of little surprise that "Piecing Me Together" won the 2018 Coretta Scott King Award and earned a Newbery Award honor. Readers seeking thoughtful realistic fiction with substance need look no further.

Courtney Waters is the teen services manager at Missouri River Regional Library.