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Stevie Stevenson #1

Coffee Will Make You Black

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Set on Chicago's Southside in the mid-to-late 60s, Coffee Will Make You Black is the moving and entertaining tale of Jean "Stevie" Stevenson, a young black woman growing up through the Civil Rights and Black Power movements.

The novel opens at a time when, for black families, seeing a black person on television was an event; when expressions like "I don't want nothing black but a Cadillac" and "Coffee will make you black" were handed down from one generation to the next without comment. Stevie is a bookworm, yet she longs to fit in with the cool crowd. Fighting her mother every step of the way, she begins to experiment with talkin' trash, "kicking butt," and boys.

With the assassination of Dr. King she gains a new political awareness, which makes her decide to wear her hair in a 'fro instead of straightened, to refuse to use skin bleach, and to confront the prejudice she observes in blacks as well as whites. April Sinclair writes frankly about a young black woman's sexuality, and about the confusion Stevie faces when she realizes she's more attracted to the school nurse—who is white—than her teenage boyfriend.

As readers follow Stevie's at times harrowing, at times hilarious story, they will learn what it was like to be black before black was beautiful.

256 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1995

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About the author

April Sinclair

8 books118 followers
April Sinclair was born and grew up in Chicago during the times of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. As a young black woman during and after these times, she began to take advantage of her experiences along with her artistic talents to become an active member in her community. She has worked for over 15 years in community service programs, has directed a countywide hunger coalition, and has taught reading and writing to inner-city children and youth.

(from http://voices.cla.umn.edu/artistpages...)

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 259 reviews
Profile Image for Nancy.
557 reviews762 followers
March 4, 2016
Posted at Shelf Inflicted

I couldn’t resist the title. When I was little, my mom used to give me my own mug with a little bit of Café Bustelo and a lot of sugar. It made me feel pretty grown up that I was drinking coffee with my parents. My grandmother would look at me disapprovingly and say, “coffee will make you black.” Well, obviously it wasn’t working, so I would hand my empty mug back to my mom and ask for a refill. Then she would tell me that too much coffee is no good for you. But if it makes me black, how can that be a bad thing?

I was tired of being white. Most of the white kids in my neighborhood were Jewish and came from far wealthier families than my own. The Puerto Rican kids all spoke Spanish and were various shades of brown. Though my dad was born in Puerto Rico, he had a very pale complexion. My mom, on the other hand, has that rich brown shade I so desired. Looking more like my dad than my mom made it difficult for me to fit in. My closest friend was Jewish, but I enjoyed hanging out with the black girls. They were the best at Double Dutch jump rope and tried to teach klutzy me, but all I ever got to be was a turner. My friend Penny sometimes asked me to braid her hair. Oh, what fun! It was so unexpectedly fine and easy to style. Some days, she would wear it loose with a plastic headband. Other days she would come to school in cornrows with colorful beads on the ends. Penny stuck up for me when a couple of girls harassed me on the school bus. I loved her colorful clothes and no-nonsense attitude. Whenever I was with her, no one would mess with me. One day I wanted to bring her home. My mom said it was OK, since my dad was working and wouldn’t be home until evening. While Penny was visiting, my dad shows up unexpectedly and spouts racial invective, causing poor Penny to run out of the apartment in tears. That was the end of our friendship. She eventually moved out of the neighborhood and so did I.

After Penny, I developed a crush on Joanne Chesimard when I saw her on TV passionately speaking about revolution. She was beautiful, eloquent, and wanted to change the world. I wanted to be just like her when I grew up and refused to believe she had anything to do with bank robberies and killing police officers.

Life is a series of disappointments, but black is beautiful.

All big cities have similarities. Even though Jean Stevenson “Stevie” grew up in Chicago, many of her experiences triggered sweet and painful childhood memories of growing up in the Bronx. This is not only a story about the problems of growing up and gaining independence. There is a lot here about family relationships, friendships, race relations, the feminist movement, standards of beauty, discovering one’s sexuality, and the turmoil of life in the 1960’s.

Stevie sometimes hangs out with the wrong crowd. She defies her mother’s attempts to make her “white” by resisting hair straighteners and skin lighteners. Stevie just wants to be herself and embraces her life with passion.

This was a funny, moving and heartwarming story about growing up. I’m looking forward to Stevie’s college years in the sequel, Ain't Gonna Be the Same Fool Twice.
Profile Image for Obsidian.
2,710 reviews930 followers
April 8, 2015
I struggled with what to write about this book because so many things were going on that I feel like I would need a flowchart to explain how everything was connected. So many things popped up while reading this book for me and I a lot of different memories running through my brain about my own family.

I thought that this book by April Sinclair was brilliant. Overall, I loved this book. There were some minor issues that I had, but not enough to rate the book below five stars.

I emphasized with the main character Jean (known as Stevie) throughout this entire book. Stevie wants to be part of the cool girls at her school. She is at times frustrated with her mother who she sees as having no friends and life and only seems to be around to make Stevie do chores and for her to talk "white". Stevie is doing a delicate balancing act of having friends and trying not to do or say anything to alienate them, while also trying to still be involved with things that she wants to.

The other characters in the story, such as Stevie's father, and her brother's don't seem to be written as richly as Stevie, her mother, and her grandmother.

Additionally, the book being broken up into parts showing Stevie at middle school and then high school and we get to see her becoming aware that she may not be like the other girls she has grown up with. Included with that we get to see her reactions to the Civil Rights and Black Power movements in Chicago at the time was very informative. Seeing Stevie struggle to fit in with the cool group to having an epiphany that if her friends don't like that she may be a certain way, that they were not good friends after all was great to see.

I thought that the writing was very crisp though at times it was odd to read Stevie's thoughts (written perfectly) but then trying to decipher what someone was saying since Ms. Sinclair wrote the words as they would sound if pronounced sometimes.

The setting of Chicago in winter, summer, spring felt very real to me. You can tell that the author actually lived or at least visited this city since everything she wrote in the story rang true.

I did not grow up in the 1960s in Chicago like the main character Stevie did. However, I did grow up with a close knit family that had some of the same discussions that Stevie's family did about race. I remember hearing about the paper bag test when I was growing up. And I totally eavesdropped all of the time and heard people discussing "good hair".

I can also speak to the double-edged sword of being too light or too dark in the black community. Being too light was not great since you were accused of trying to look white, and being too dark was not great since you were told you were too black. The same issue would emerge if you talked correctly since you were told you were trying to sound "white" or putting on airs.

I now want to read Ain't Gonna be the Same Fool Twice, the sequel to Coffee Will Make you Black in order to see what happened with Stevie.
Profile Image for Ian.
1,342 reviews188 followers
January 11, 2020
Coffee Will Make You Black works on many different levels. As a reader, you can take as little or as much as you want from the book. It can be a book to read on the beach, or if you want it to, it can challenge you on a much deeper level.

It's the coming of age story of a young girl growing up on the Southside of Chicago. She's just trying to get by, to find out who she is but if you are an African American woman there is always an extra level to the challenges you face.

I loved this book. It will mean different things to everyone who reads it but for me, I want to understand. I want to be able to see where I'm failing perhaps even without knowing it. I want to do better.

And that's why I'm making a conscious effort to read stories from women of colour. I wish it didn't need to be a conscious effort but it is, at least for now.
Profile Image for Caroline.
205 reviews5 followers
February 26, 2014
This book reminded me of my childhood. I grew up very sheltered with my parents, especially my Mom, keeping me away from everything and everyone she deemed a bad influence. My neighbors were a White and Malaysian couple. The black girls in school would call me a 'white girl' and shun me. So when I made my first Black friend, who happened to be from the projects, I wanted to emulate everything she did to fit in with the other black girls in school. The newest slang, the newest dances, know biggie and mary j lyrics, the boys that I was supposed to like because the other girls thought he was 'fine'. I could so relate to the main character of the book. All the things I was trying to do to impress were things I actually hated (the boys were full of themselves and too fast, the dances were vulgar, the music horrible in my opinion). Like her, in the end, I realized I had to go my own way and be who I was- and if that meant losing my best friend because she didn't like the 'real me' then so be it.
Profile Image for Bina.
168 reviews56 followers
April 6, 2016
April Sinclair’s Coffee Will Make You Black is the coming-of-age story of young Jean “Stevie” Stevenson who grows up in the Chicago Southside of the 1960s, in the midst of the Black Power and Civil Rights movements. As a bildungsroman, the novel follows Stevie from age eleven until seventeen and her journey of self-discovery as well as her and her community’s place in the US. If, like me, you’re not from the US, the title may have you confused. Coffe will make you Black is explained by Stevie’s grandmother as:

“The old folks in the South used to tell that to children so they wouldn’t want to drink coffee. The last thing anybody wanted to be was black.”

Horrible isn’t it? As you can see, and important part of the novel revolves about racism and racial identity. Sinclair also critiques the colorism inside and outside of the Black community. For Stevie is very dark-skinned and among her group of friends they like to compare their skin color to see who is the lightest. Alongside these notions of colorism is the rise of the Black Power movement through which Stevie comes to reject anti-blackness. Instead, she decides to wear her hair in a ‘fro and refuses the skin-bleaching cremes her mother offers her. Sinclair further demonstrates the generational conflict at work as Stevie’s mother strives to emulate white people in that she straightens her hair, bleaches her skin and insists on ‘proper’ English. Stevie, however, fights her mother and embraces Black vernacular and insists on staying friends with a girl who is ‘nothing but trouble.’

But square Stevie also longs to be part of the cool group, which leads to boyfriends with misogynistic attitudes and nearly having sex before she is ready. Growing closer to white school nurse Horn, Stevie comes to re-evaluate her sexual identity and also her community’s attitudes towards interracial friendship and homosexuality that she had previously accepted without question.

In the end, the novel proudly declares that ‘Black is beautiful’ and Stevie’s grandmother offers an other saying, ‘The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice’ as counterpoints to the titular racist idiom. Sinclair for the most part wonderfully connects and interrelates the coming of age story and the Civil Rights narrative, even if some moments could’ve done with a lighter touch. But this is a debut novel and it spoke to me on so many levels. I can only imagine what this book might mean to all the Stevies out there. And apart from its obvious importance in telling the story of growing up a Black girl in the 60s, a lot of the book is uproriously funny! I can only draw from other readings and movies about the time and community for comparison, but I think Sinclair’s use of vernacular is fantastic and lends the book much of its charm.

Luckily there is a sequel, Ain’t Gonna Be the Same Fool Twice, which follows Stevie’s exploration of her sexual identity in her college years in San Francisco. I can’t wait to read it!

(review from my blog http://ifyoucanreadthis.wordpress.com/ )
Profile Image for Mahoghani 23.
1,070 reviews
February 7, 2017
The storyline takes place in the early sixties and beginning of seventies. Jean Stevenson better known as Stevie, is a young girl growing up when the color of your skin was really important in the black community and everyone was in unrest due to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The book reiterates what I've heard growing up but not providing Sufficient info that would substantiate their beliefs. This book could have been any black child's life during that era. All the dark skin jokes, black men being treated as boys, deeply religious mommas, switches and all the slang talk. It's funny, dramatic, knowledgeable and an enjoyable read.
Profile Image for Misskittykilpatrick.
18 reviews3 followers
September 2, 2012
I absolutely loved this book. The title of this book made me smile and took me back to my childhood. It made me remember that as a child I was not allowed to drink coffee and when I asked my parents why I couldn't have it, my grandparents would say, 'Coffee will make you black,' which never made sense to me because ummmm, I am black lol. We were only allowed to drink hot cocoa.

Jean's mother is so much like my mother. When she does not want to answer a question she goes into 'avoidance mode' and just hopes Jean will go away. This was a very funny and relatable coming of age story.
Profile Image for Monica.
584 reviews612 followers
June 9, 2019
A good friend gave me this book over 10 years ago to read (used and already raggedy...lol). I can't remember who. The author lived in San Francisco at that time, so they were pushing a local author of interest. Good coming of age story of a young black girl ages 12-18 growing up in the late 60s. This book was well done with the characters well drawn. I loved Stevie's family and friends. I sympathized with the angst and confusion she had growing up. I shared many of her experiences or at least similar experiences. There are many experiences in African-American families that are fairly common. To some they can seem pretty mundane until you read it in a book. Those sayings like "coffee will make you black" or some of the strange courting rituals of 14 year olds. I found this an amusing trip down memory lane. I think the book is less successful when the writer goes towards trying to write about sexual confusion in a teen-aged girl. Just not as richly textured as the rest of the book. The character of the nurse just didn't work. In fact none of the white characters were fully formed characters. While I understand that the point of view was constructed in the mind of Stevie, but unlike her friends, family and other characters, there was something missing in the white characters. The notion being that white people are some sort of benevolent, well meaning, alien presence; at least in their incarnations as teachers and school administrators. From that viewpoint, the characterization was brilliant. But I'm not completely convinced that was the author's intent. Oh well, small matter when you consider the book as a whole. Overall a positive, hopeful story about growing and growing up. A short, pleasant journey.

4 stars
Profile Image for Laura Cunha.
544 reviews29 followers
December 1, 2021


Para o Desafio Literário Popoca 2021 de novembro, com o tema protagonista negro, escolhi um já quase clássico da autora norte americana April Sinclair, Coffee will make you black. Apesar do livro ter sido lançado em 1994, até hoje não foi traduzido para o português, então, traduzo eu mesma o título: Café vai fazer você ficar preto.

Pode parecer estranho, mas o título se refere a um dito popular dos EUA, especialmente nos séculos XIX e XX, que se dizia para as crianças não quererem beber café, para que ficassem com medo de escurecer sua pele. Em outras palavras, o título desse livro sozinho já diz muita coisa e a quê ele se propõe.

April Sinclair, criada em Chicago durante o movimento dos direitos civis dos negros americanos, traz a história de Stevie, uma jovem negra que começa o livro com 12 anos, e que vive durante os anos 60, bem no meio do movimento Black Power. A narrativa é toda centrada no ponto de vista de Stevie, que mesmo sendo uma leitora voraz e boa aluna, quer muito ser considerada cool.

Apesar do pano de fundo político forte e do tema constante do racismo institucional dos EUA, a história de Stevie é de uma jovem se descobrindo, brigando com sua mãe, tentando fazer e manter amizades e conseguir um namorado. Talvez hoje seja meio clichê já, mas esse é o livro mais antigo que já li com esse tema onde praticamente todos os personagens são negros e que não é uma autobiografia.

Dentro do tema criança virando adolescente e se descobrindo, Coffee will make you black é um volume bem dentro do esperado, bem escrito, com questões típicas, mas muito abrangente, porque a autora não fica só no basicão. Ela inclui por exemplo, questões de descoberta da sexualidade que não eram muito comuns em livros publicados nos anos 90.

Entretanto, o pano de fundo do movimento dos direitos civis e a questão do racismo trazem um peso para a trama que o leitor precisa estar disposto a enfrentar. Além disso, mesmo em inglês a leitura não é das mais simples, porque April caprichou nas gírias da época, o que, pessoalmente, eu gosto, porque data a história sendo contada, o que é mesmo o objetivo, mas, por outro lado pode deixar a leitura mais lenta.

No geral, é um excelente livro, e estou animada para pegar o volume seguinte, pois é uma duologia. Mal posso esperar para ver para onde vai a história de Stevie em Ain't gona be the same fool twice!
Profile Image for Tianna.
192 reviews17 followers
April 20, 2010
This was a good one. A couple of places have this book classified as LGBT teen fiction, but I don't think I'd go that far. Honestly, it sounded more like your standard teen fiction. The LGBT issue was raised now and then, but it certainly wasn't a focal point IMO. Maybe that's just because I had periods in my life where I was just as sexually confused and questioning like Stevie, so I didn't even notice all the gayness.

A lot about Stevie's childhood reminded me of my own. Her desire to fit in often clashed with her desire to remain herself. There's so much about Stevie's life that has to do with the times she was living in, but also a great deal are things that young women still face today. I'm eager to read the sequel, that this book so beautifully set me up for. I got this book from a swapping website, which usually means I put it back on my list of books to be swapped and pass it along. I think I'll hang onto this one. It was a quick read, and I'm sure there will be some more people in my life who would get some joy out of reading this one.
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,287 reviews732 followers
March 21, 2019
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.

This book was a hopeful entity during an ongoing trying time. People lie and take advantage of you, the long term end results are sometimes worse the incipient beginnings, hard work is sometimes despite all past failures rewarded, and if free time is sometimes thrust upon you, it's best to take advantage of it while you can. Much like Stevie at the end of this book, I'm eager for change and nervous as all hell, and while my situation is not as sustaining as it could be, it'll suffice until I succeed in getting something more relevant. There's not many similarities between 1960s/70s black urban teenhood and 2010's white suburban mid-twenties, but the cycles of joy and anger and success and failure are all the same, as is the need for a balance between professionalism and humanization, when to withhold out of courtesy and when to confide out of solidarity. That's not a message I expected to get out of a semi-YA novel at my age, but it's comforting during my minor crisis in capitalism, and it reminds me that I need to take care of myself regardless of what my brain tells me. I just gotta work on convincing myself of that.
Profile Image for Velvet.
63 reviews4 followers
June 4, 2008
The smart, adventurous heroine of Sinclair's funny, fresh first novel about growing up African-American in 1960s Chicago, picks her way through minefields of advice from her mother's generation while searching for a place in her own. She outgrows an early obsession with good hair and the right skin color (fudge? Cracker Jack? pecan? paper bag?) to discover politics and self-respect after Martin Luther King is murdered. Sinclair writes like Terry McMillan's kid sister, in earthy, slangy dialogue peppered with down-home expressions. A girl is as ugly as ''homemade sin.'' Winter weather is ''stomp-down cold.'' She has a knack for framing heavy questions in quick, easy, upbeat vignettes that make the '60s sound like the good old days.
Profile Image for Nina.
99 reviews64 followers
July 9, 2016
This book has been in my TBR pile for almost twenty years. I definitely would have enjoyed it as a child but I can also appreciate it as an adult (and resident of Chicago).
Profile Image for Charmer (+ Vibes Only).
598 reviews18 followers
September 17, 2018
Black is Beautiful!!!
When your daughter comes to you and asks you about virginity, you answer her question as truthfully and innocently as you can. You don't want her to learn the wrong things from the wrong people. I didn't like Stevie's mom. These little girls were way to grown. Always talking about boys rubbing up against them. They are too young for that. What in the world is peeing with a boy? I must've missed that some how.
I loved every time somebody black was on t.v. Stevie's little brother let the family know and that it was a big deal. The whole bleaching cream thing had me pissed. I had to pause the book and calm down. Why was her mother always trying to keep up with The Jones's? And did she really call her husband a nobody? Stevie's grandma is the best. I'm glad Stevie has her and her father to speak realness and self love to. Teri/Charisma can both go to hell.
Bulldagger, is a word I haven't heard since I was a child. We weren't allowed to say that word in my Mom's house.
I'm glad Stevie didn't succumb to the pressure of losing her virginity. That she stopped it. I hate that Carla acted the way she did when Stevie had "the talk" with her. That made me sad, but I'm glad she was able to talk to Nurse Horn about it.
I've never heard of squeezing the lemon.
Profile Image for Trey.
114 reviews42 followers
December 9, 2016
April Sinclair has captured a sweet, down to earth story of a charming young lady - during the age of adolescence, leaning more toward sexual orientation. The development of this identity is cleverly integrated into the 60's civil rights movement and the formation of black identity. Jean Stevenson, aka 'Stevie', is our guiding light through some important times in her life, dealing with personal discovery, ills of peer/social pressure and family relationship. I didn't particularly care for the sexual orientation aspect of the story, although I appreciated that the author brought up the distinction between "sexual feelings and affectionate feelings". Stevie did steal my heart tho and my hunger for strong characters and rich narrative was sated.
'Coffee Will Make You Black' is an admonitory quip (if you'll allow the phrase) passed between generations of southern black-american families - to deter the youth from drinking coffee, because it might turn them into the last thing they wanted to be... especially in the south.
"'Black' is supposed to be a fighting word." - said Stevie's mama.
Sinclair skillfully tethers an interesting dynamic into this story involving notions of the white-american image, and the romantic interface between people of different ethnicity, to name a few. So, 'Coffee Will Make You Black' is by no means a simple story. It's one of soft and hard realities, and uncertainties faced by our endearing and courageous Stevie. This is gracefully marked by Sinclair's wonderful last words:
"My life might not turn out to be easy, I thought. I just hope that I turned out to be strong."

To my christian brothers and sisters, this may not be for you, unless you don't mind the topics all that much. 4 stars for good story and good writing.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Anna Kay.
1,318 reviews151 followers
August 26, 2015
More like 3.5 stars. It was definitely different from my normal reads, which was kind of the point. My reading life has kind of stagnated over the last year, into mostly comic books and barely anything else to add variety. I used to read all sorts of things and I thought a different viewpoint of the world would be interesting. Also, the experience of growing up as a black teenage girl, in the late 1960s (civil rights movements, riots, assassinations of MLK and the Kennedy bros, etc.) was a tumultuous undertaking. Not for the faint of heart. Jean "Stevie" Stevenson is just trying to sort through the myriad opinions and prejudices of the other people around her, to get to the revelations of who she really is and what she stands for as a person. By the end of the book, Stevie has gone from being obsessed with popularity and boys to wanting more; she's started wearing her hair natural, paying more attention to the changing world around her (even forming her own political opinions), questioned her sexuality, and realized she believes "black is beautiful." My only thing is that as one of the whitest suburbanites that ever whited, I really could have used a slang dictionary to go along with this book.

Overall, I'd recommend it if the time period interests you and different viewpoints are something you can appreciate as a reader.

Profile Image for Jeremy Preacher.
786 reviews42 followers
January 5, 2011
I read the first chapter, in which the only thing discussed are comparative skin tones, and had to put it aside and read something else. Then, being stubborn, I picked it up again and bulled on through.

Ok, first of all, I am almost never a fan of mainstream books narrated by pre-teens. (Genre books do this shockingly well, for reasons that people have written theses about.) But I barely made it past the opening "conflict," in which there is a terrible misunderstanding because the poor girl doesn't know what "virgin" means. It doesn't really get less cliched than that, ever. While having no plot as such beyond "twelve-year-old goes through junior high and high school" is fine for this sort of book, I suppose, it felt awfully formless to me. The latter half of the book is made up of random one-page scenes where someone says or does something stereotypical and the main character responds in a way that proves she's growing as a person. I mean, seriously, every single character is some kind of stereotype, from the bad girl best friend to the random jealous flaming gay guy on the street to the young black guy in the late sixties who gets political and the boyfriend who appears to be a standup guy until she tells him she doesn't want to sleep with him.

I felt guilty about my initial reaction, but the longer I read the more justified I felt. This is not a good book, although it'd probably be perfect fodder for a sophomore high school class.
256 reviews7 followers
May 4, 2016
I would have loved to read this growing up. When I was young I devoured light coming-of-age YA novels, particularly anything by Judy Blume. I saw them as potential roadmaps by which to live my preteen life. But it took reading this one to make me realize that none of those YA books I read in my youth were told from the perspective of a black girl. (Unless you counted the American Girl books about Addy. But, uh, Addy was too busy living life as a runaway slave to worry about her first period). As the only black female in my family, I could have learned a lot from this book had it been in my roadmap repertoire.

Set during the Civil Rights Movement, this novel provides a unique perspective on what it was like to grow up as a black girl in the 60s. It has a lot of the basic elements from those YA books I loved so much--crushes, embarrassments, identity crises, periods, fads--while also bringing attention to race (and struggling with one's identity as it pertains to race), which is an important topic to address. I also liked that it addresses feminism and sexuality as well. At times I found the writing style a bit abrupt, and I'd need two or more hands to count the number of times skin color was compared to food--from hot fudge to Cracker Jack to an eggplant to much more--but as a whole this was a great, honest book.
Profile Image for Alisha.
100 reviews
September 14, 2014
This rating is more like a 3.8 or 3.9.

Extremely good, intriguing read. I couldn't put it down most of the time. The protagonist, Stevie's, experience with the rage and changing of the times was realistic.

I also related to Stevie and her life probably more than I have related to any other main character in a book. Struggling to find real friends, handle your family, accept your race, become a girl all the guys want. All the while growing into yourself as a self-aware female. Lots of fear, confusion, annoyance; but somehow you find a way to enjoy the ride.

So why (only) a [high] 3? Well I'm not necessarily sure if this will be a memorable book, even if I call it one of my faves. Also, I realized at the end of the book that, overall, character development was pretty lacking for Stevie. She went through all the standard phases, but it never really showed in the book that she became anymore knowledgable on the nuisances she handled. I'd also be lying if I said I didn't find the ending lackluster. Complete, yes, but boring as well.

And who knows, maybe I'm just a little bitter at seeing the annoyances of my life retold in the book.

Still, I really enjoyed reading the book very much. I'd definitely read something else from the author.
Profile Image for Diana Townsend.
Author 9 books31 followers
December 24, 2013
So, I read this book a long long time ago and I needed to read it again because I couldn't remember anything about it. Well, I was pleasantly surprised. What a great book! I gave it five stars because this book made me feel something. Sometimes you read a book and afterwards you're like, okay well that's that and then other times you read a book and you actually sit there and think about it. This book made me long for things and made me remember some things I would rather forget. It's a coming of age story with so much history and so much realistic truth about how Black people, in a lot of ways, were our own worst enemy. The way she exposes what it was like, and still is sometimes, in the Black world to be dark skinned, or how it was more acceptable to be fat than it was to be dark, is amazing. How Black people abuse the "N" word and still do to this day is a touchy subject, but she handles it with finesse. I don't know, I just loved the book.
Profile Image for Chalida.
1,429 reviews11 followers
May 7, 2008
stevie is such a great character. you have to love her.
Profile Image for Mary Pagones.
Author 14 books90 followers
July 19, 2020
I read this book many times when I was in my early twenties, and it just simply flew by on this reread. I love the narrator Stevie so much, and relate to her struggles--she's got such a reputation as a good girl, even when she's bad, she always gets special admonishment because no one would expect such as thing of her. She's excited to finally be friends with a "bad" girl, only to be told by the girl's mother how relieved she is that her daughter's finally making friends with decent people.

The book is set in a working class Black neighborhood of Chicago during the 1960s, and while there are serious issues going on in the background, including MLK's assassination, and the school getting teargassed at one point, the language is so sarcastic and biting, the book is never depressing, even though the humor doesn't undercut the gravity of the situation. There's a funny, quotable line on just about every page but the book is so funny because, like the very best kind of humor, it's about people fighting to stay alive and better themselves.

Sinclair gets the little details about growing up just right--things like getting excited about buying a hot lunch in high school rather than having to bring your lunch and the DRAMA of having to buy embarrassing personal care products for your family members. The most painful exchange in the book, however, is when her mother suggests she use whitening creams, and Stevie has to explain why she won't, and why she's going to stop straightening her hair.

Colorism is dealt with very frankly in the book, as social attitudes shift from viewing lighter skin as desirable to Black Is Beautiful. I'll also note that there is quite a bit of politically incorrect language, as well as lots of insults, but it feels right in the context, and isn't gratuitously used. Regardless, it's something to be prepared for, since I know some people don't like to read that sort of thing, even when it's obviously being used to show how things are, not how things should be.

There is a minor LGBT+ theme in the book, as Stevie is attracted to a woman more than her boyfriend, but since the book is set fairly firmly in mid-adolescence, it's more in terms of early exploration of sexuality, not a relationship. The white school nurse to whom Stevie is attracted is also believably drawn. She's a decent person, but at one point when she complains that she feels she isn't fully accepted at the largely all-Black school where she is working even though she marched with Dr. King, a Black teacher has to remind her that the point of supporting equality and social justice isn't for a white person feel better about herself, or even to make friends, but to do what is right.

This is just such a great, funny, readable coming-of-age book I enjoyed even more as an adult.
Profile Image for Nicolas Chinardet.
384 reviews83 followers
June 10, 2018
Jean Eloise (known to all as Stevie) is a young black girl in the first half of her teens growing up in a reasonably affluent family in Chicago in the late 1960's. Her naivety is compounded by lack of information, and strict social roles and expectations, yet she is a smart and kind girl and somehow manages to find her way to some sort of truth about herself. The country, wracked by Civil Rights unrest, follows a similar, if slower and probably less successful process.

Apparently light-hearted and superficial, Sinclair's likely autobiographical book still manages to describe and denounce the various restrictive labels, sometimes highly self-defeating, that people will place on themselves or accept from society, be they racial, religious, gender-based, social, economic, or sexual.

The scene introducing Nurse Horn, about three-quarters in, felt very rushed and clumsy but otherwise, Sinclair's writing is dexterous and very readable. A lovely surprise of a book. I will certainly check out the two following volumes of Stevie's story.
Profile Image for Court Schueller.
222 reviews1 follower
February 7, 2023
3.5/4 stars.

I loved this book! Set in Chicago and with such an interesting lead during a pivotal time in history. BUT this book seems to be geared towards middle school to high schoolers. So while a really enjoyed it, a lot was problems I am no longer concerned with (getting first period, middle school, etc.) still a really cool story with a great message! I strongly recommend for anyone ages 11+! Will be putting it back in the little library near where I live! Hope someone else enjoys it too.
Profile Image for J. Brendan.
259 reviews3 followers
December 20, 2020
Very sweet coming of age story of a Black teen in the late 1960s. Jean "Stevie" Stevenson navigates the class politics of being a janitor's daughter, her burgeoning possibly queer sexual desires, her growing sense of Black pride, and the eternal adolescent issues of trying to fit in. This is episodic as it moves through her high school years but as the story went I grew to like Stevie and I am excited to catch up with her in Sinclair's second book.
Profile Image for tamara.
28 reviews1 follower
February 12, 2022
cogí este libro en navidad de una estantería de pura casualidad porque me llamó la atención el título (qué hacía un libro sobre una mujer negra en mi casa?) y ha resultado ser divertidísimo!! amo a stevie y me hace trasladarme mucho a esa edad donde sentimos que pertenecemos a otra época porque los valores de nuestro alrededor están distorsionados y no sabemos si hay vida más allá de todo eso o viviremos en la resignación. y el final!!! qué esperanzador❤️‍🩹🥺
Profile Image for Mimi S.
48 reviews8 followers
March 4, 2020
Great coming of age story. A definite page turner. Will be reading the sequel. Stevie is a typical teen looking for answers that parents and adults back in the 60s weren’t prepared to give. Race relations and sexism issues felt like they mirrored today’s times, goes to show some things never change.
Profile Image for AlTonya.
Author 114 books306 followers
December 24, 2022
An excellent beginning to my Christmas Eve morning! This was a terrific read- the only thing I hated was that I didn't read it sooner. The writing style, the characters and setting- a beautifully crafted story.

I would highly suggest reading this in print instead of listening to the audiobook. The narrator wasn't right for the storyline, but the story is wonderful.
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