Sometimes people say they wish they had a book when they were younger, but I don't know if I've felt that until I read this. I really, really wish my seventh grade self had this book. I was just like Shayla for a while; I got straight As and was quiet and teachers loved me and getting in trouble was the worst thing I could think of. And then Trayvon and Tamir and Philando and Sandra were killed and all that changed, just like police brutality changes that for Shayla.
I really loved having a book about a Black girl that sort of has the low stakes of middle grade, but everything felt like it was a big deal, if that made sense. It covered friendship issues and crushes and all the normal middle school things. Shayla was normal, but also black, and I loved that. Also loved that her mom was very Black and did not let her get away with anything. That's also my mom. And I really, really appreciated that the author included Asian characters speaking in AAVE, because it's such a big thing, especially since I go to a predominantly white/Asian university now. I like that Shayla was able to air her grievances with how her friends treat her when it comes to race (her best friends are Japanese-American and Latinx) without the friendship falling apart. They talked about the troubles each of them had and I really appreciated.
I wish there had been more of a conversation about cultural appropriation. There sort of was with Julia, the friend who randomly starts speaking AAVE, but it sort of is just Shayla telling her that she says words wrong, and also thinking that Julia speaking that way is annoying. But I wish they talked about it in an accessible way, the way they discussed police brutality.
There was also a part that irritated me, where Shayla wears a Black Lives Matter arm band to school and a boy tells her blue lives matter. Shayla is like "Oh, of course they do!" And then there's a part about how she doesn't hate cops and no one in her family does, etc. I hate the idea that
A) Black people are not allowed to be angry at cops when the law enforcement system in general have brutalized Black people since its inception.
B) That Black people aren't... really allowed to hate anyone. That people are allowed to hate us and we have to love them back or be very gracious.
C) I hated that it didn't delve into that. It's very... disingenuous. Like, it doesn't matter if you don't hate individual cops, the issue is the fact that they are very likely to kill you and they will not be prosecuted. It's the system. It doesn't matter if your Aunt Amy is a cop because it's not about her as an individual.
Anyway, I really enjoyed this overall. I hope girls like Shayla and I find themselves in this book and realize that it's good to get in trouble for important things.