Tag Archives: racism

Book Chat: This Side of Home

This Side of Home by Renee Watson


Nikki and Maya are twin sisters that have always done things together. But, as they enter their senior year of high school, things start to change – within their community, their school, and their friendships. The book takes us through Maya’s experiences of the gentrification of her hometown, making friends with the new boy next door, and college application stress. It’s a high school story with romance and difficult friendships and identity confusion. But, it is SO MUCH MORE.

We pulled dictionary definitions for microaggression and racism, neither of us are scholars and we know our explanation lacks nuance (and, possibly, accuracy). We’re digging deeper to make sure we represent these issues accurately in the future.

Favorite Character
Charles – He’s kind of a side character, but he’s so earnest and making such an effort that I was cheering for him every step of the way. I loved that he owned his idiosyncrasies and that everyone rallied behind him. (Tony gets an nomination here, too, because he also is trying very hard to understand and do what is right while being true to his own feelings.)
Favorite Line
I wish I could write half the book here. But, these will do:
“She needs someone to listen to her yesterdays.”
“Sometimes I am barely a flame. Sometimes I’m a coward.”
“I wonder why Principal Green told us what we might not be instead of telling us the possibility of what good we could become.”

Also, chapters 28, 60, and 78 in their entireties. Amazing.
Fun Author Fact
Renee Watson has published children’s, middle grade, and YA books! In the second grade, she wrote a 21 page book for school and then she knew where her life would lead.
Read These Next
The Secret Sky by Atia Abawi for another teenage relationship with serious political themes or How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon about the fall out from a neighborhood shooting (and which Anisha will be reviewing soon).
Is this worth a book hangover?
ABSOLUTELY. We both fell in love with this book because it’s an honest portrayal of the identity crisis of high school and the looming stress of college applications while seamlessly including a story of gentrification, racial tension, and stereotypes. We plan to recommend this to a lot of people – as a perfect example of beautiful writing and fantastic YA literature. Additionally, there are lots of things in this book we just didn’t get to – allies, representations of marriage, the role of community among the underprivileged, Essence’s life experience – and that makes this book even better because there is SO MUCH to unpack.
Post Author
Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.


Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School, podcast

Getting Personal: Why Jess & Anisha Read Diverse Books

As our last post points out, there are many reasons related to society, culture, and representation for supporting diverseIMG_2083
books. These are important overarching reasons to read diverse literature, and we believe in all of them.

But, like most readers, we also have our personal reasons. As avid readers, we both lived in a world of books before we ever knew or cared about the larger implications of what we read. Even after we started The Bookmark, our views have been adjusting. We started by reviewing mainstream literature, and quickly realized that our passions are more closely linked to supporting diverse literature. Why? Check out our reasons below.

Jess and I come from very different backgrounds, so our reasons for supporting diverse literature are different. Here are just four of them:

Anisha’s Reasons – A perspective from a brown American girl

  1. Being American does not mean being white.

When I was in middle school and high school, I didn’t have the vocabulary to explain my family and background. I could say “I’m Indian” – but that didn’t really cover it. I didn’t feel Indian – I was born in the US, spoke only English, and had only visited India twice (less than some of my friends had been on vacation to Europe). I had a very “Western” childhood, with sleepovers, make-up, and dating. But I didn’t feel like my experience was normal, and the only way I could explain it was to say “I’m basically white”.  I didn’t think the American experience was anything but the white one. I was having a white childhood, in an Indian girl’s body.

You can chalk that up to immaturity, but I think it’s more systemic than that. None of the movies or books I read represented my experience. Mainstream literature tell us that “normal” girls are white, rich, and thin (even when they think they’re fat). And while I wasn’t actively seeking out diverse literature or movies,  I should not have had to. Mainstream books should reflect the experiences of all of their readers, and show us that being “American” can mean a lot of different experiences.


  1. One “diverse” book should not have to be the magic bullet

Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier was the first diverse book I read. The book is fantastic – well crafted, great story plot, and with an Indian-American girl trying to find her identity in high school. In many ways, it was perfect.

Except – and this took me a long time to admit – it wasn’t my Indian-American story.  And as the only Indian-American book I could find at the time, I felt it was the only story I was “allowed” to relate to, and the fact that I could not made me realize that only having one story for thousands of Desi girls was wrong.. Just as Sarah Dessen can’t write for every white girl, Tanuja Desai Hidier can’t write for every Indian-American girl.  I, and every Indian girl, should have hundreds of narrators of Indian origin to choose from. And then I can find my own story from these girls.

Note: Jessica Pryde wrote an excellent piece about this topic at Book Riot. I highly encourage you to check it out.


Jess’s Reasons – A perspective from the cultural hegemony or a white, cis, hetero girl  

  1. Books are doors into other’s lives

Books are a way to dip into the lives of other people, experience a life different from my own, and internalize a little piece of what it would be like to be someone else. Sometimes that means I’m a dragon-flying space colonist jumping through time, other times it means I’m a princess trying to fight a strategic political marriage. A few weeks ago, it meant that I was a high school student working through the gentrification and racial shift in the neighborhood I grew up in. Diverse books are important to me because they provide more chances to expand the types of experiences I’m able to have within my one, single life. When we read books, we become the characters and that makes it just a tiny bit easier to understand what kind of experiences, thoughts, and dreams the people around us have. Diverse books are an integral part to expanding the kinds of people readers are able to become.

  1. Our stories reflect our individual truths.

But, diverse books should not exist to help the majority population “feel what it’s like to be someone different.” Since I grew up as a white kid in the US I could usually find someone that looked like me in books. True, she might end up the girl that needs saving most of the time, but at least most of the stories and characters were easy for me to relate to. Those girls still looked and felt like me. I care about supporting diverse books because I think everyone should have the same chance I did and do. Every reader should have the same joy of finding a story that speaks to their soul and that features characters and stories that look like them and lead lives like theirs. Often diverse books are called “window books” because they let the majority (white, cis, hetero, able, nominally Christian) population peek into what those “other” lives are like. But, I think that’s wrong. These books aren’t and shouldn’t be (only) about that. They are about individual truths; there are millions of different people and stories and each and every one stands on its own terms.

What are YOUR reasons for supporting diverse books? Are you part of the “norm”? What has mainstream literature gotten wrong about you? Leave a comment or tweet at us @Bookmark_Place.


Filed under Contemporary, Heavy Topics, High School, Historical

Book Discussion: Lies We Tell Ourselves

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley


It’s finally time to integrate the all-white Jefferson High School in Virginia. Sarah is one of the first 10 black students to enroll. We experience the process of integration through her eyes, feeling the screaming insults, the racist chants, and the awful physical assaults that she, her younger sister, and other students endure. The daughter of a very vocal anti-integrationist, Linda, just happens to be in Sarah’s classes and they end up grouped on a school project. As their work progresses, their understanding of each other grows and feelings both girls never expected begin to bubble to the surface. We get a story of inner strength, personal belief, and inordinate courage in the face of racism, family, and abuse.

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

The electricity in this book is fitting for the type of relationships that develop – curiosity, confusion, and shame serve to make things realistic and to keep the heat from erupting. Even so, the few kisses and moments of openness are crucial and I wanted to cheer both girls when they let themselves feel.

RosieFeminist Score: Good Effort

There are a lot of moments to cheer for these girls and for the steel backbones they find when dealing with some seriously wrong behavior. I appreciate the different pictures of strength and choice the women in the book exhibit. They may be in high school, but both Sarah and Linda have already started chartering their own paths through life regardless of what family and society says and that is what feminism is all about.  I didn’t like the comments about “that kind of girl,” but they totally fit the time period of the story.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

The book is about integrating a high school in the South. That’s already pretty intense. There are also some social/economic class comments, but the main focus is on race. I appreciate that a lot of the comments and Sarah’s arguments with Linda are still (unfortunately) relevant for today. Some people may find the hater-oppressed falling in love a bit cliché, but the storytelling makes up for any staleness.  And, oh yea, there’s the little fact that a white girl and a black girl find themselves dealing with strong, confusing emotions about one another.

EDIT: This review is from a white perspective. Some Black readers in the community have stated that this book is clearly written with white readers in mind and that a lot of what happens to Sarah is harmful and hurtful to Black readers (obviously it is also hurtful to Sarah, but there’s a way to show history in a way that is compassionate toward current readers). So, as we always try to be better as readers/bloggers, I wanted to point this out.

wow icon Awesome Factor: A+ Success

This book is amazing. It may be about a time 50 years gone, but it is still SO RELEVANT. Sarah and Linda bring a human touch to two very tough positions – one fighting for her humanity against blind hate and the other struggling to reconcile the ideas she grew up with and the truth in front of her. While it could have been bogged down in the politics and history, instead we got a seriously emotional, deep story about two very different girls finding their way along a confusing path. Sarah’s strength, brilliance, and beauty and Linda’s willingness to reevaluate her opinions and life choices are something we all should aspire to.

Favorite Character

I love both main characters, but I think Ruth, Sarah’s little sister, takes the cake. She’s outspoken, determined, and courageous. Plus, while dealing with the stress of integration, she also has a hovering older sister that just will not back off and she deals with it all in the most teenagerly perfect way.

Favorite Line

This book has a ton of great lines, but Sarah’s Mama has a moment that is just too relevant for today to miss:

“Now you listen and you listen good…Nobody’s going to let us be anything. We have just as much right to this world as they have, and we are not going to wait around for them to give us permission. If we have to prove it to them, we will, but I don’t ever want to hear you talk that way again.”

Is this worth a book hangover?

Absolutely. I read this in one day because it pulled me in and didn’t let go until Ruth gave me the final word. The story is compelling and the characters are honest and well crafted.

Fun Author Fact

Robin Talley was at the NOVA Teen Book Festival and she talked about the importance of true-to-character book covers. It was important to her that Lies We Tell Ourselves wasn’t white-washed – and she got inspiration for the cover from real archived year books!

Read This Next

Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan or Like No Other by Una LaMarche

Post Author


Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.


Filed under Heavy Topics, High School, Historical, Romance