Release Date: July 1, 2010
IQ "Baby, there is going to be struggle in your life that you can’t possibly prepare yourself for, but let me tell you from experience, if you run from it, it’ll just follow you to another place in your life. You have to learn to face your fears.” Tilly pg. 120
NaTasha is one of the few African Americans at her suburban New Jersey school. This doesn't bother her, but it does bother her grandmother Tilly. Tilly lives in Harlem and she insists that Tash go to Harlem with her and reconnect with her roots. While in Harlem, Tilly takes Tash with her to volunteer at Amber's Place. Amber's Place is a crisis center for girls in tough situations in the Bronx. NaTasha doesn't know how to act around the girls, they seem to be so different from each other. These girls' lives are way harder than her own and they don't accept her, calling her a "sellout". Being called a sellout hurts, but it gets NaTasha wondering about her situation. She starts questioning some of her all-white friends attitudes, including why she's never had a boyfriend or why she tries so hard to fit in (being a ballet dancer instead of playing volleyball which is a sport she loves). In Harlem, Tash meets two guys and slowly starts to make friends.
At times this story runs predictable and Tash started off as a hard character to like. I understood her desire to fit in at any costs since she stuck out so much, but I had a hard time dealing with her naive attitude towards people she meets in Harlem (like Rex). However, Tash does slowly change in a genuine way. It was obvious that the tough-girls who gave Tash such a hard time would have hard lives that she would never even consider. Tash's parents also annoyed me. I wanted a better explanation as to why they were so oblivious to the effects on Tash as a result of living in a mostly white neighborhood; I really didn't get how her mother changed. Her mom is Tilly's daughter, born and raised in Harlem and yet she's completely changed. I would have liked for Tash to discover why her mother went through such a drastic change. I was puzzled by Heather (Tash's best friend) sudden change of attitude towards the "mean girl" Stephanie, it came out of nowhere and it wasn't explained very well. Ultimately, I had a problem with the lack of explanation behind the character's actions.
The most shocking part was the story of Shauna and how the writer introduces bleaching. I don't want to give too much away but, I'm sure that many white readers won't know that so many young people of color consider or actually do bleach their skin. It touches on the saying that “if you’re light, you’re alright.” The whole story was heart wrenching to read about, but not a surprise. “They hated me. My hair, my skin, my body, my voice they hated everything I hated about myself. I was just like them after all, because I hated me too.” (Tash, pg. 101). When Tash is at such a low point that she utters that statement, I understood completely where she was coming from and I was angry (not angry at her) that she felt that way. I was surprised by how the romance played out, but I really liked how the author showed that seemingly nice guys can turn out to be real jerks. Initially I wanted to meet Amir and Khalik because they sounded like great guys. Tilly is a wonderful character, she's a spitfire grandmother and I love that she gives it to you straight. Watching Tash grow is a rewarding experience, sometimes I really doubted if she would make progress and I love that the author made me doubt that.
Sellout is an important story, it addresses a topic that most people of color have gone through (or sadly may go through in the future) but many white people don't know what being a sellout means. This story will open many reader’s eyes. If the author did more showing or telling when it comes to the character’s actions, it would be a more satisfactory read. While the story may seem like a depressing one about a girl with low self-esteem, it ends on a hopeful note. I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel because I’m curious to see how Tash’s growth will affect her relationships with people back home in New Jersey.
Disclosure: Received from Colleen at Chasing Ray. Thanks so much Colleen!
PS For my thoughts on being called a sellout read my Food Essay