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256 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 1995
If you're black you don't have to march to pay dues, Diane. You pay dues just by breathing.This was an unexpectedly holistic delight. it is technically YA, but it's YA that doesn't pretend everyone had a PG/PG-13 childhood, and so it rings more true in a historical fiction sense (1960s-early 1970s Chicago, USA) than most middle/high school narratives do. It's a coming of age, but it's a real, black, and queer coming of age, replete with tackling antiblackness, queerphobia, Malcolm X, MLK, sex changes, improvement of black education, bleaching creams, and other cultural artifacts that really aren't that aged or irrelevant, even when semi-cloaked behind 60s-70s AAVE. As such, I couldn't recommend this to a child unless the parents were comfortable with it, but it would be good high school or even early college reading material if the school isn't mature enough to tackle works like The Color Purple (trigger warnings required, of course). The messages are affirming, especially the last less than clear cut stance on sexuality, which I wish I had had at the end of my high school career, painful as the associated events involved in the discovery were. In the end, this is an odd duck of young eyes and mature themes, and YA/NA would benefit, if they aren't already, as genres if more works embraced such a balance.
I can't believe they're beating white kids like that.As someone who's in a transition state, albeit of a more bachelor, self-supporting variety, I can sympathize with Jane Stevenson's, aka Stevie's, reactions to rapid changes and turnabouts handed out from the bounds of middle school to the edge of high school. Looking back, my own trajectory could have been much worse, as a number of Stevie's experiences reflect, but it also could have been a lot better, especially with regards to my becoming aware of the intricacies of my identity and finding some, if not a lot, of acceptance for it. Either way, Stevie's bildungsroman pulls no punches, and thus I could relate to it a lot more, cuss words and fear of sexual assault and all, than I usually can to such narratives, despite my being white. It was also fascinating to view the country shaking events of Malcolm X, MLK, the Black Panthers, and associated Afro American movements as a peripheral yet ingrained facet of the landscape. It went a ways towards humanizing the narrative that is so often tossed around as a pedestal no one would dare argue with, and while it never got down into the gritty details of black nationalism vs nonviolence, one has a better sense of what the world was like back then in terms of a history that had happened and the future that was yet to come. It gives me perspective on my own problems and allows me to relax a bit in the knowledge that I'm in a safe enough position to keep doing what I'm doing and going where I"m going. Bumps here and there are likely to always be frustrating as all hell, but that's what savings and three paychecks in one month are for.