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This Side of Home

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Identical twins Nikki and Maya have been on the same page for everything—friends, school, boys and starting off their adult lives at a historically African-American college. But as their neighborhood goes from rough-and-tumble to up-and-coming, suddenly filled with pretty coffee shops and boutiques, Nikki is thrilled while Maya feels like their home is slipping away. Suddenly, the sisters who had always shared everything must confront their dissenting feelings on the importance of their ethnic and cultural identities and, in the process, learn to separate themselves from the long shadow of their identity as twins.

In her inspired YA debut, Renée Watson explores the experience of young African-American women navigating the traditions and expectations of their culture.

336 pages, Hardcover

First published February 3, 2015

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About the author

Renée Watson

38 books1,324 followers
Renée Watson is the author of the children’s picture book, A Place Where Hurricanes Happen (Random House, June 2010), which was featured on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams. Her middle grade novel, What Momma Left Me debuted as the New Voice for 2010 in middle grade fiction by The Independent Children's Booksellers Association.

Renée’s one woman show, Roses are Red, Women are Blue, debuted at New York City's Lincoln Center at a showcase for emerging artists. Her poetry and articles have been published in Rethinking Schools, Theatre of the Mind and With Hearts Ablaze.

When Renée is not writing and performing, she is teaching. Renée has worked in public schools and community organizations as an artist in residence for several years, teaching poetry, fiction, and theater in Oregon, Louisiana, and New York City. She also facilitates professional development workshops for teachers and artists.

One of Renée’s passions is using the arts to help youth cope with trauma. She has facilitated poetry and theatre workshops with young girls coping with sexual and physical abuse, children who have witnessed violence, children coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and children who relocated to New York City after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Renée graduated from The New School, where she studied Creative Writing and earned a certificate in Drama Therapy.

Renée currently lives in New York City.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 473 reviews
Profile Image for Zoe Stewart (Zoe's All Booked).
296 reviews1,461 followers
July 3, 2020
When I first picked this up, it seemed like a solid three-star book. The writing felt choppy but it was a good enough story. By the end, it totally changed. The writing still felt choppy, especially with how short the chapters are, but we were getting snippets of time, and it worked. We didn't need to know every little detail happening.

I can say hands down this is one of my favourite books about the Black experience. It shows many struggles a Black teenager experiences without trauma. It shows Black joy, which is something we need more of. It shows young Black people being accepted to post-secondary education. It shows Black history, and that there are so many important things that Black people have done, while not glossing over how Black history is never taught in full. I encourage anyone who reads this to do their own research on the Black historical figures mentioned.

While my experience as a Black teenager was quite different from Maya's, a lot of the thoughts she had echoed my own. Thoughts that I still have as an adult. Wondering why so many compliments about intelligence are backhanded, why we are made to seem "better" than other Black people because we have an education. Why being educated and well-spoken (to white standards) means that we are more worthy of praise than other Black people. It's something I've struggled against my whole life, and something that Maya is trying to understand. While we are praised by white people for these "accomplishments" we are looked down upon by some of our Black peers for seeming "too white" and being called Oreos because we're Black on the outside but white on the inside. Maya is trying to find a way to bridge the gap between her Blackness and the increasingly white world she lives in, but people seeking to keep the two separate are making it difficult. She herself began the story with a very us/them attitude.

Maya lives in a city with a rich Black history that's quickly being gentrified. In her eyes, she's seeing her history slipping away one new business at a time. I grew up and still live in a town that is a majority of white people (as in our of 24k-ish people, there are 500ish Black residents), so I have few Black peers. Out of the 1400 students in my high school, the most Black students we had at one time was seven. Whiteness has always been the default where I'm from, we have never learned about Black history outside of slavery. Our history lessons were whitewashed to the extreme. My father's family is from a town where many escaped slaves settled (which leads me to believe that I am descended from escaped slaves), but that history is not taught. Maya has the opportunity to learn about the Black history of her town, but outside of a school setting. It made me realize again that as much as I know about the history of my county, especially the city of Windsor, it's predominantly white history. I encourage everyone living in North America especially to look into their town's history and see if they've learned anything other than white history.

Anyways, after that dismantling of my own review, go read this book 😂
Profile Image for Liviania.
957 reviews64 followers
February 3, 2015

Renée Watson's debut novel THIS SIDE OF HOME is the story of Maya's senior year at high school. It starts with a big change, when her best friend is evicted from the house across the street and has to move across town. The new family that moves in is white, just like most of the families moving into the historically black neighborhood.

Maya is passionate about her town, about the history of her neighborhood and school and the people who have lived there. She's angered by the gentrification, by the opportunities given to business owners moving that were denied to the black people who already live there and tried to get loans and backers. She's angered that when her school tries to present a better side to the press, something she supports as student council president, the principal forces them to tone down the blackness and present a multicultural lens that focuses on making sure the white students don't feel left out.

Maya is also confused. She and her twin sister, Nikki, and her best friend, Essence, have always planned to go to a historically black college. But now Nikki is friends with the new girl and looking at different schools. Essence isn't looking at college at all, but beauty school. And Maya finds herself falling for the boy across the street, instead of the nice boy she's been dating for ages. Can she stand up for her culture if she's dating a white boy?

I loved THIS SIDE OF HOME. Gentrification is a pressing issue in many cities, and Watson presents it in an understandable way. Like Nikki, many people appreciate new shops and restaurants and other nice things moving into a neighborhood. Like Maya, many people dislike it because they see the people who get forced out of their homes because they can no longer afford them. Like Essence, some are too busy figuring out how to make ends meet to care about the bigger picture. Watson presents a variety of voices and a variety of perceptions. Maya tries to do the right thing, but THIS SIDE OF HOME makes it clear that she isn't always right.

THIS SIDE OF HOME is a great novel for readers who like narrators with a strong voice and contemporaries that treat romance and friendship with equal importance. It's a multifaceted look at a community through the eyes of a teenage girl on the verge of a bright future. And I can only assume that Watson has a bright future as an author ahead of her.
February 19, 2017
My name is L.

I have a problem.

I read YA fiction and I love the state I'm in.

But, YA doesn't tend to love some of its readers back.

However, sometimes I find what's offered in this "subgenre" (as it's not a genre, but rather a geared audience) anemic and offering little variation in plot, characters, and even book aesthetic. When I find a true gem, I must shout. This Side of Home offers a story many desire, but few see.

1. A strong and relatable female protagonist. She's not perfect. She possesses attainable goals. She looks, talks, and thinks like a teenager.
2. Explored societal issues, like gentrification. Nothing's sugarcoated or used as a token plot device. Real feelings. Real consequences. The subject's taken seriously.
3. Diverse characters and not for diversity's sake. Tokens do not reside within this book.
4. The teens talk in their natural language. No ultra-hip winks to an imaginary camera a la Joss Whedon.
5. Cultural nuances (e.g. hair/coconut oil/twists; Spelman College). I read this book relating to the kids, their parents, and their neighborhoods. Refreshing to see on the page.
6. No love triangles!

6. Okay, so you cannot have YA without an annoying trope. Insta-love rears its ugly head. Enough. I honestly don't think it fits in the story. Let the characters find themselves before hooking them up by chapter 5. "Love" doesn't work that way. Lust, on the other hand, does.

All in all, read this book. It's a lovely tale about exploring one's self and understanding how change plays a pivotal role in doing so, while wrapped in honesty and nuance that #ownvoices seeks to enfold in YA.
Profile Image for kate.
1,151 reviews927 followers
January 1, 2019
This Side Of Home is the second of Renée Watson’s books I’ve read and it most certainly wont be my last. She has such an incredible talent for expressing power and depth within her words, with an ease that I’m in awe of. Her writing may seem simple due to being so easy to read, yet it is anything but. She simply doesn’t need to cram her pages with flowery descriptions to tell her stories. Her tone is lyrical, yet to the point and I love it so much.

This Side Of Home was powerful, fun, heartwarming, frustrating and eye opening, whilst being undeniably important and relevant.
I adored each character, their individual stories and their multiple, multilayered relationships. They were relatable, human and complex and I loved reading through Maya’s brilliantly smart, ever evolving voice.

This is definitely book I will be recommending left, right and centre from here on out.
Profile Image for Jenny Bunting.
Author 18 books428 followers
September 10, 2015
This is a fantastic YA debut novel about an African American girl named Maya whose heart is set on attending a historically black college with her twin, Nikki, and their best friend Essence after high school. Their neighborhood in Portland, OR is changing with an influx of redevelopment and the demographic is changing. Maya is incredibly resistant to change and wants things to stay the way they are while Nikki accepts change a little too easily for Maya.

I thought it was so refreshing for this story to be told in the YA genre. Some YA novels are vapid with no discussion of the bigger issues that might exist outside their high school's walls. There is a constant struggle within Maya's high school between celebrating the large black population and including the new white students and other races. I found those parts and issues the most interesting and infuriating. I wanted to know more about Principal Green's motives since his actions are contrary to what I expected when he was first introduced.

Maya is a character that experiences satisfying character growth and she continues through her senior year. I also enjoyed that this book felt wholesome and promoted strong character and being involved in your community. It was fast-paced and easy to read. You could easily devour this in an afternoon. I enjoyed this novel very much and it's impressive for a debut. Some aspects felt unpolished and could've been fleshed out but overall, a very strong novel.
Profile Image for Shane.
Author 32 books657 followers
November 23, 2014
It's been a while since I've read a book so peppered in culture and the highs and lows of racial differences, but I must say I truly liked this story for all it stood for and the way in which it was written.

This Side of Home tells the story of Maya, and the tight bond she has with her twin sister, Nikki, and her best friend Essence. It's also about coping with changes, to oneself and to everything around you. Her whole life, Maya had everything mapped out, so it was understandable that she'd feel frustrated a bit by the fact that sometimes things don't always work out the way you planned. Aside from what was happening with her and her heart, Maya was also apprehensive about the changes taking place around her neighborhood. Her community was becoming more and more diverse but she felt it wasn't for the better, because there were still issues not being looked on.

At first, Maya's character comes off a tad close-minded, and one might not warm up to her beliefs or some of the things she'd say. But then I remembered that there are plenty of people like Maya, including me, that want to celebrate culture and fight for it as much as we can. The only thing was, she wasn't all the way right at times. And I'm happy that Tony came into her life and made her see that change was okay. That it's alright to step out of the box and look at things in a new light.

Once again, the writing was good--Easy and fast-paced. The descriptions were great too. I envisioned myself in the urban feel of the community and could experience the emotions of each character. My only issue was that I wanted to know who was the culprit behind the defacing of posters, and I wished that the principal would have somehow changed his views. But, you can't always get what you want. Regardless, it was a really good story and I recommend giving it a try if you'd like something more realistic and multicultural.
Profile Image for shalea.
159 reviews
September 27, 2018
This was so good! I loved the message, the romance, and the friendship! I'm definitely going to read more by this author 😊❤️
Profile Image for Paige (Illegal in 3 Countries).
1,226 reviews391 followers
November 11, 2015
See more of my reviews on The YA Kitten! My copy was an ARC I received from the publisher via NetGalley.

Some books are just too gorgeous to talk about for a certain period of time after you read them. Every time you try, all the emotions come rushing back in and you choke up like I did that time I was in my school musical in sixth grade (don’t ask anything about it because it ties into the horrible story of one of my brother’s ex-girlfriends). This Side of Home is one such book. All I could say about it in a creative writing class was “It’s like a punch in the nose. Y’know, a good one” the day I finished it. AND IT IS. This Side of Home is the best punch in the nose I’ve ever gotten from a YA novel.

I consider myself a woman well-educated on intersectional feminism and the problems communities like Maya and Nikki’s face, like the censure Nikki faces from her friends and family because they think she acts “too white” for a black girl and how the residents of a black community are alienated from their own world when white families start moving in and taking over black businesses. Some of what Maya points out relates to stuff I already know, but she has such a biting way of putting it that it feels like a startlingly new revelation. For instance, we have this gem of a line:

“You can say all you want that race doesn’t matter, but the reaction to those posters that hang on our school walls says it does, and Principal Green’s overcompensation to make the white kids feel included says it does.” (ARC, p.234)

Heck, have this one too, which comes after the new principal trashes the Black History Month tradition the mostly-black high school usually does in favor of a diversity assembly meant to include EVERYONE:

“I think celebrating diversity is fine, but not in the place of honoring black history. February is only twenty-eight days; they can at least give us that.” (ARC, p. 187)

These are just two of the many brilliant nuggets This Side of Home has to offer and I agree with every single one of them, especially the above diversity quote. In a single month out of the year meant to educate and celebrate black history, I don’t want to be accommodated as a white woman. In movements toward diversity, I don’t expect or want white people as a whole to be accommodated. For all our lives, we have been able to see our own stories and triumphs reflected back at us. For once, we need to be at the window seeing what else is out there and becoming better people for it.

One line from another character about how of course the sleazy street got named for Martin Luther King Jr. hit home for me. My mom remarked once that all the MLK Jr. streets she’d ever been on or seen seemed to be bad streets and implied it was because of who the street was named after that was so. Maybe it’s because the cities decided these bad streets were ones to name after one of the greatest men in the history of the United States?

Anyway. Maya’s characterization as a tireless activist whose frustration with how little her work seems to mean is brilliant and powerful. All she wants is for her community to get better without being gentrified by white people first, but everything seems to be working against her. That kind of pushback could make anyone give up, but Maya’s stubborn as can be even when she’s forced to recognize that very few people are as fired up about the issues as she is.

I’ve got a few issues with the shallow characterization of new girl Cynthia and the hate on her, but it’s something I’m willing to forgive because the benefits and great points of the novel are so much greater. It’s so much more beautiful to see how proud Maya is of her heritage and how little she doubts it even when her sister and best friend are drifting away from her and questioning themselves. It’s not an easy read, but every last word of it is necessary and gorgeous.

God, what else can I say about this book? It’s not something you hear someone talk about; it’s an experience you need to have yourself. It’s the kind of book that makes you want to cry, but you have to hold in your tears or else your mascara will get all on your face and you’ll look deranged. It’s the kind of book that gives away the fact you’re reading during a meeting because it gives you shivers like seizures (true story, by the way). It’s the kind of book that makes you tear up just trying to write a review about it.

“Stories about POC characters don’t sell,” some say. “The wider reading population can’t relate to them.” Well, that’s horse crap and also true because when we have no books about POC characters, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy from hell. I can’t remember who I heard it from or where I read it, but books are like mirrors and windows, but the mirrors mostly reflect white teens right now and POC are looking at those white characters through windows. Books like this one will provide a smart, much-needed mirror for the people who really need it. Read This Side of Home. Please, please read it because you may not find a smarter YA novel out there right now.
Profile Image for Kristina.
853 reviews195 followers
March 31, 2017
This was book was just amazing!

I saw this book in a video one of my favourite booktubers made and I decided to give it a go because she said she enjoyed it a lot. I am so glad I picked it up because it was such an educational and emotional read.
As a white European I don't get to communicate with people of colour that often, especially African-Americans. I never knew the extent of the problems and struggles they face on a daily basis. I am so happy that I now know thanks to this book.
I definitely recommend it. Renee's style is so easy and pleasant to follow and the characters are so likeable and unique!

So far, my favourite book of the year <3
Profile Image for Christine.
828 reviews
May 22, 2016
This is a great young adult book. I was lucky enough to have won this through a Goodreads giveaway, and it's definitely one of my favorite ya that I have received. It is quite true to high school, and relevant. Nicely written, and I loved how it isn't focused around sex. A lovely change.
Profile Image for Danielle (Life of a Literary Nerd).
1,179 reviews251 followers
March 20, 2017

I LOVED this book. First of all, I’m a sucker for a twin story, being one myself I love reading about twin sisters (especially if they don’t hate each other) and this book did not disappoint. This Side of Home is a gorgeous and thought provoking book about gentrification, community, and identity. It’s filled with warmth and love and heart and frustration and indecision and stubbornness. I just loved it so much!!

-Maya & Nikki. Like I said, I’m a sucker for twin stories, especially twin sisters who don’t hate each other/aren’t polar opposites. Though Maya and Nikki are different people, they react to the changes in the community differently, they dress differently, enjoy doing different things for fun, they still love each other and hang out. Reading books with twins who hate each other or who never talk always makes me sad and so I’m glad we got to see them be their own people and see them as sisters with a special bond. I also love that they were named after some fabulous Black poets.
-Real-World Issues. This book was so real and honest. It talked about gentrification and how it disproportionately impacts the lives of the minorities: forcing them to move, higher costs of living, lack of approval for Black/Minority owned businesses. It talked about community and what it means, especially when your surroundings start to change. It talked about Black History Month and the erasure of the contributions and advancements made possible by Black people. We see class struggles in the kids worrying about college and scholarships. We see how the public education system, influenced by the community and population, provides for or fails it’s students. We see Maya and Nikki show different ways of showing and embracing their blackness. They talk about their hair, the politics of interracial dating, how they always are a representative of a larger group and feel pride or shame for how other black people act, and how they can be judged for “acting white” when other people’s expectations of you are not met. SO MUCH GREAT STUFF and I LOVED every minute of it.

Cons: Other Thoughts:
-Time. There were a bunch of little time jumps (few weeks at a time) in the story. I didn’t mind them at all and they actually helped move the story along in a really natural way, but you wouldn’t find out there was a jump until the middle of a paragraph or a random part of a chapter. You couldn’t really anticipate if there had been a jump or not. I wish we got a little more post-graduation. While the ending was beautiful and brought everything full circle, while also showing growth and acceptance, I selfishly want more.
-Principle Green. I did not like Principle Green at all. He was awful and dismissive. And I have some unanswered questions about him too: . He’s that kind of person who doesn’t ever see that what they’re doing is wrong and belittles those who disagrees with them. Did not like him.

This Side of Home is a beautifully poetic story of family, community, and self discovery. We follow twin sisters, Maya and Nikki Jacobs, as their community begins to change and they try and reorient themselves in their new little world. This Side of Home shows how you can discover yourself as you grow.
Profile Image for Kelly (Diva Booknerd).
1,106 reviews299 followers
May 23, 2017
Senior Maya Younger is a remarkable young woman, articulate, intelligent and ambitious. Identical siblings Maya and Nikki aspire to attend Spelman College, a historically black liberal arts college for women. The Portland neighbourhood is evolving, a predominantly black community displaced by white residents and corporate franchise stores.
They've painted and planted and made beauty out of decaying dreams. Block after block, strangers kept coming to Jackson Avenue, kept coming and changing and remaking and adding on to and taking away from.

Best friend and neighbour Essence is forced from the rental property she shares with her alcohol dependant mother, the landlord an opportunistic man exploiting the real estate demand. Another white family are now residents within the Portland community while her suburban school begins to diversify.

Maya's frustration was palpable. Her community flourishing black family homes are being acquired and businesses financially constrained while residents acclimatise. Maya has inherited her parental legacy, her mother and father community activists while encouraging Maya to uphold her ideals. As Maya and Nikki form a tentative friendship with new neighbours, Nikki is thriving, exploring the contention of Caucasians encroaching on black communities.

As senior president, Maya will collaborate with the new principle who is determined to innovate and positively influence education for all students. As Richmond tradition, the school celebrates Black History Month but as the new diversification has been introduced, African American students will celebrate diversity. The principal seemed awfully misguided. While attempting to promote inclusion, he erased the cultural signification of black teens and as a black educator he was inconsiderate and dismissive.

Instinctive prejudice and stereotyping of the African American community is predominant within the Portland suburb and touches upon black residents campaigning for community safety, beautification and infrastructure. Landlords evicting tenants from debilitated homes, refurbishing to satisfy white families. The community seems reluctantly accepting of the suburb transformation, Nikki in particular and Maya begins to challenge her sister and her ideals, causing a fracture within their relationship.

A point of contention is the flourishing interracial relationship between Maya and new neighbour Tony, shortly after her dissolving relationship with Devin.
And women throughout our neighborhood pull me aside, saying things like, "I'm glad he's dating you and not one of them." And by them they either mean a white girl or hood girl.

Although Tony is attentive and considerate, Maya experiences a sense of expectations within the wider community. Her concern of being hypocritical, dating a Caucasian Tony in contrast to diversifying her Portland town with the influx of white families. While at Richmond, white and Hispanic students are instrumental in a new diversity inclusion policy, at the detriment of black students and Black History Month. It raises the discussion of marginalisation and the erasure of racial identities in favour of inclusion. Inclusion is paramount in creating safe spaces especially with adolescents but the cultural and historical significance of Black History Month in particular should be celebrated. Black teens should be celebrated. One month per year shouldn't be infringed upon.

This Side Of Home is an intelligent read, wonderfully diverse and encourages discussion about cultural significance and inclusion. Compelling, compassionate reading.

For more reviews like this one, check out My Blog.
Profile Image for Jamilla.
342 reviews31 followers
March 24, 2022
It was very much a YA story...but so much better! I loved how the author touched on so many things that make up a part of being black. A very subtle read! I'd definitely recommend this!
Profile Image for Rich in Color.
488 reviews86 followers
February 16, 2015
Review copy: ARC via Netgalley

This Side of Home is a solid debut by Renée Watson. While it shares many of the same tropes as other coming-of-age stories, the execution is what sets this book apart. Watson does a commendable job of painting a community in transition as gentrification drives old residents out and changes narrator Maya’s world in both obvious and subtle ways. Watching Maya and her neighborhood as they handled—or didn’t handle—the tumult made for a compelling story.

There were many small scenes that sold me on the book, from the observation that a landlord didn’t bother making any improvements/doing any maintenance his (black) tenants had been asking for until he could raise the rent and have wealthier (white) tenants to a conversation between Maya and one of the older residents at a home-turned-coffee shop about the neighborhood’s history or a difficult but good breakup with a boyfriend. This Side of Home is filled with many gems like this, especially when it comes to moments where Maya widens her perspective.

Maya was a fascinating character, and I was particularly moved by watching her reconcile her dreams with reality—and grow up in the process. Her disagreements and fights with her friend, Essence, and her sister, Nikki, provided some great conflict, especially since each side in the arguments tended to be right about different points. I was less enthused about Maya’s constant conflict with Principal Green and some of her fellow students, but the obstacles the principal threw in her way sparked some of my favorite scenes, like the boycott of the Tastes of the World event or the poster war.

One of the most interesting—and complicated—storylines was Maya’s relationship with Tony. Romance can be a tricky thing for me, sometimes, but Watson struck a good balance between creating a friendship between them and then making sure neither Maya nor Tony could fully dodge the hard issues in their relationship. (Their conversation about whether or not Maya should apply to other colleges in addition to Spelman was one of my favorites.) Through their relationship, Watson was able to explore topics like racism and privilege without bring the narrative to an abrupt halt.

Recommendation: Buy it now if you’re a fan of contemporary books. This Side of Home is a thoroughly enjoyable coming-of-age story that also manages to tackle important social issues without forgetting to keep its focus on the characters. Maya’s growth comes through questioning the world and the people around her, and while it was often painful, it was also rewarding. I’m looking forward to future books from Renée Watson.
Profile Image for Jocelin.
1,856 reviews45 followers
May 30, 2016
This Side Of Home is a story about twins Maya & Nikki. They were named after famous African American poets Maya Angelou Nad Nikki Giovanni. They are living in a neighborhood in Portland, Oregon that is going through a resurrection (gentrification). Because of this gentrification, it causes their oldest and dearest friend Essence to move to away from them. Essence is essentially the "third" twin. You see their life being played out with their last year of school with controversies, new friends and romances coming and the challenges of starting a new chapter in their lives.
The problem that I had with this book was not about the gentrification, not about the heated racial exchanges with the students but, it was the the weird relationship between Maya & Nikki. As a twin myself, I felt the storyline surrounding the twins was unrealistic. It seemed like they were strangers and Essence was the defining factor in their relationship. When Essence moves away, you never get the sense that they are even sisters. My second problem was the interracial romance. Maya develops a romance with her new next door neighbor Tony who's white. The romance (in secret) is sweet but, when they are in public it is non-existent. I felt like the romance was out of place and it seemed like everyone's attitudes were stuck in the 70's about it.
The story was well-written and it was nice to see twins as main characters in a book. I just wish the romance wasn't so lopsided.
Profile Image for Terri.
703 reviews20 followers
January 24, 2015
Review also found at http://kristineandterri.blogspot.mx/2...

I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The expected publication date is February 3rd 2015.

The synopsis provided for this story pretty much captures the essence of this story (too funny that one of the characters names is Essence!). This story is about two sisters who are experiencing changes in their environment and how they deal with it differently. It addresses the need to stay true to their ethnic and cultural identities while learning how change impacts them and who they are.

Ultimately it is a story of acceptance without compromising your identity and values. Written in an easy to read style this results in a pretty quick read. This would be an ideal read for those who enjoy the YA genre but are not really looking for the sappy romance. It addresses some real cultural situations (although somewhat glossed over) and is more a coming of age type of drama.

Overall an easy and enjoyable read.
Profile Image for Lucie.
144 reviews8 followers
December 20, 2020
Young adult fiction about gentrification in Portland Oregon? This book was made for me!

"This Side of Home" follows Maya, a high school senior living in a historically black neighborhood in Portland, over the course of a year. Maya and her twin sister Nikki are starting to grow apart as they feel differently about how to deal with the changes in their neighborhood - changes that impact their best friend Essence as well as the culture of their high school.

Watson did a wonderful job of building a relatable story around real issues of gentrification in a way that would be digestible to a young teen who is just starting to learn about this problem. It's even handed, and couples the discriminatory factors that lead to gentrification in unison with the growth of Maya, the main character. I thought the romance was also handled beautifully - not too dramatic or cliched, but with a realistic amount of angst for teenagers!
Profile Image for Shannon.
129 reviews10 followers
November 21, 2015
This is THE most timely and relevant book for my neighborhood in Seattle, which is undergoing the same social and emotional turbulence of gentrification as Portland depicted in this story.

Complications of loyalty, repercussions of activism, and the changing nature of childhood promises add depth. Main character Maya is the only character fully realized but I recognized all the rest as the community I interact with daily. My own experiences fleshed out what some might consider to be flimsy secondaries.

I think this book pokes the bruise of uncomfortable topics that many teens feel but cannot necessarily articulate. There is a lot to discuss here and it needs to be discussed for teens to get a fuller picture of all the issues. This is a classroom read or book club pick with lasting importance, not the fast pace and high drama that teens might choose for themselves.

Profile Image for Becky.
828 reviews12 followers
April 21, 2015
This book reads much younger than I was expecting it to, so it took me a while to really get into it. But there's a lot I like about it, like the conversation Maya has with the old man in the coffee shop about Vanport and Portland's Black history, and the small but significant discussion about how hard it can be to have a parent who is an activist and puts community work first, and how exhausting it can be to always feel like you have to represent something.
17 reviews
March 23, 2017
I think that "This Side of Home" is one of the best books that I have ever read because I've learned so much from it. I could also relate to the story because I live in the neighborhood that the book is based on. I can understand how the neighborhood is gentrified and I know exactly how Maya feels about her neighborhood. One of the biggest things that I learned from this book is that you should always ask questions and fight for what you believe is right.
Profile Image for LynnDee (LynnDee's Library).
517 reviews39 followers
February 21, 2019
I appreciated this story for the window it provided me into what it's like being a black girl living in a neighborhood that is slowly becoming gentrified. The more I read stories like this, the more I learn and the better ally I can be. What I didn't care for was the the way there was a lot of telling and not a lot of showing. The message just seemed to be repeated over and over. However, I do realize that I am probably not the reader the author intended this book for, and that teens might benefit from the way this story is told. And the chapters were short, so it reads fairly fast. Overall, I would recommend this story to anyone who needs a window into a world not their own.
Profile Image for Christina.
412 reviews55 followers
October 4, 2015
4.5 stars

Please support my blog and read my review here: http://adventures-in-polishland.com/2...

I've been on such a YA contemporary kick lately, and This Side of Home is a great addition to the list. The story chronicles the life of twins Nikki and Maya as they finish up their last year of high school. Maya is our first-person narrator, and lets readers into her life in Portland, Oregon. The neighborhood in which she grew up is changing – new businesses are popping up everywhere, new families are moving in across the street, and Maya feels as if her culture and friends are being forced to leave. This Side of Home is the perfect combination of a contemporary YA story and a discussion on race relations.

As Maya and Nikki take on their senior year of high school, they go through numerous struggles both at home and school. Nikki refuses to attend her best friend's birthday party because she is afraid the guests will call her "white" due to her straight hair and love for vintage clothes. Maya, on the other hand, is the student body president at Richmond, her notoriously dangerous high school. Maya takes on her new principal as he tries to focus on diversity, and not on the black history that Maya craves to feature at school events.

While This Side of Home takes on a variety of serious issues, it is also a quick read that I flew through in just a few hours. I grew to love the characters, and I loved the balance between a realistic teenage love story, and the fight to overcome racism in a public high school. I was thoroughly impressed with the writing in This Side of Home, as it flowed easily and was at a steady pace throughout. If this is what a debut novel from author Renée Watson looks like, I'm excited to see what comes next!

At a time when the We Need Diverse Books campaign is at the forefront of readers' minds, This Side of Home begins many important conversations. I was truly impressed with Watson's ability to write characters that battle with the same struggles that we as readers have. There are no right answers to these questions, but This Side of Home helps us to open up and become comfortable with discussing these issues. I recommend it for all readers of contemporary young adult, and those craving a diverse book. This Side of Home is a refreshing and thought-provoking read.
Profile Image for Jen.
1,073 reviews92 followers
February 5, 2015
This is a book everyone should read.

Beautifully written and thought-provoking, This Side of Home takes a refreshingly honest look at how cultural changes affects not only the relationship between twin sisters Maya and Nikki, but everyone around them, regardless of the color of their skin.

What I Liked:
~ The sisterly bond between Maya and Nikki, how they challenged and supported each other.
~ Their longtime friendship with Essence as well as the ones they formed with the new kids.
~ Maya and Nikki's parents, because they are FANTASTIC.
~ The conversation between Maya and Nikki that takes place on pages 234-235 (in the ARC version) was eye-opening and made me want to wrap both girls up in a hug.
~ Tony.
~ Gentrification plays a key role in the changes that take place and while it tends to be a hot topic, Renée Watson depicts both sides of the discussion without demonizing either one.

Favorite Quote(s):
I know how I felt always being portrayed as the victim. I'm sure being seen as the perpetrator feels just as awful.

"Am I a hypocrite?" I ask.
"You're a black girl who fell in love with a white boy."
"And a black girl who cares about race and class issues."
[She] leans back in the chair. "You can be both."

Mom tells me, "Some people will like you and some won't. What's more important is: Do you like yourself?"

Profile Image for Annette.
900 reviews14 followers
February 11, 2015
THIS SIDE OF HOME by Renée Watson is an inspiring YA novel following a young woman facing the timely issues of racial, ethnic, cultural, and community identify.

Her neighborhood is changing and Maya is concerned about the impact this evolution will have on her school and community. The Portland, Oregon setting is perfect for a discussion of changing neighbors and reflects the urban renewal pressures facing many American cities.

Watson brings the difficult topics of race and community alive through authentic, teen characters. The book is successful as both a coming-of-age story as well as an examination of larger, contemporary issues.

Watson’s debut YA novel deserves to be considered for the Coretta Scott King Book Award. However, this isn’t a “black” book or “white” book, it’s an powerful work about changing America. Librarians will welcome this emerging author with a strong multicultural voice.

For librarians participating in We Need Diverse Books campaign events at http://weneeddiversebooks.org/, I strongly recommend adding this work to your list.

To learn more about Renée Watson, go to http://www.reneewatson.net.

Published by Bloomsbury February 3, 2015. Publisher ARC used for review.
Profile Image for Katie.
2,667 reviews144 followers
March 24, 2015
I liked this. I liked that it was set in the Pacific Northwest! The descriptions of the weather were so great. That rain that lingers forever into summer, only to be taken over by hot weather that destroys everyone! And I liked that it took place over an entire year. MORE YA THAT DOES THAT, PLEASE. (Actually. More books in general that do that.)

Buuut I think the book dealt with too much. Like, I don't feel like I got much of a sense of Maya and Nikki's relationship. (And I never quite lost my feeling that I wish we'd gotten Nikki's POV. It would've been the more unusual choice.) And the romance seemed . . . too easy, in a way. Like these conflicts were set up that ended up being dealt with super-easily.

But all the school stuff was great. I liked the different perspectives and the way the kids took a stand. And the neighborhood coming together in the end. I'd love to read more about this neighborhood and this group of people. What happens to Essence?
Profile Image for Rachael Robson.
19 reviews385 followers
April 2, 2015
I wish there was an option to give this book 4.5 stars. I loved it, but just not quite enough to call it a new favorite.

Here is my video review.

This book is set in a lower-income urban neighborhood, where, until recently, violence has been routine. There are several (brief, not explicit) references to violent incidents in the past. One character's mother is an alcoholic and shows up drunk throughout the book. There is teen romance, and some kissing, but nothing further or more explicit. I don't remember any foul language.
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