Finding My Place by Traci L. Jones 2010
Farrar Straus Giroux
IQ "Trust me. Your name is spelled wrong. And hell, yeah, you're the talk of the school. The girls-well, about half of them-like the way you dress. But they think they have nothing in common with you because you're Black, so trying to make friends with you would be a waste of time. Then about a fourth of them despise the fact that you're here, since they think your presence soils their pristine way of life. They hope you'll fail each class miserably so they can feel superior to you like their parents tell them they are. And the final fourth are so screwed up with their own personal issues that they don't have any spare time to think about you one way or another. And as for the boys, well, one or two of them would love to ask you out, but will never do so because the other ninety-nine percent wouldn't let them live it down." Jackie Sue pg. 29-30
Finding My Place is about fourteen-year-old Tiphanie Baker who in 1975 is uprooted from her comfortable life in Denver to the fancy, mostly white suburb of Brent Hills (still in Colorado). Tiphanie goes from being popular to being completely ignored at school. She misses being in the majority of school, she misses her best friend, Renee and her crush, Morris. One day, Jackie Sue walks up to he and bluntly states what I mentioned in the Incredible Quote. The straightforward Jackie Sue quickly becomes a friend of Tiphanie's. Well sort-of a friend. Jackie Sue won't invite Tiphanie over and she doesn't stand up for her to heir racist classmates. Tiphanie is involved in the age-old of struggle of trying to fit in while not selling out and figuring out who her real friends are.
Tiphanie can see the future. Well not really but sometimes she talks in a reflective manner, like when she says "[m]y parents were generally conservative and old-fashioned, but they were on the cutting edge of at least one Black cultural idiosyncrasy-they were the first in the growing wave of Black mothers and fathers to be overly creative in the choosing and spelling of their children's names." (pg. 7) How would she have known that her parents were on "the cutting edge" already? Except for Tiphanie and Jackie Sue, the supporting cast remains just that, supportive, never becoming strong enough to stand on their own. The writing isn't great but it'll do. The message is glaringly apparent and the book has a preachy tone to it. Don't judge people based on race or money, you can fit in without selling out, etc. I don't have much experience with Black middle-class parents of the '70s but I found Tiphanie's parents to be the same-old and their speeches were cliche. Did people really reference W.E.B. DuBous' "Talented Tenth" to their children? I was skeptical.
I did like that Tiphanie's parents were shown to have prejudices since we all have them. More often than not, middle/upper class Blacks look down on poor white people just as rich white people look down on both groups. It's also sadly ironic that people who are considered "white trash" still think they are superior to rich Black people. In another cruel twist of irony (does that expression even work?) the people who should be hyper-sensitive to prejudice, actively engage in it. Even though the message was fairly standard, it's still one worth reiterating because not all people have taken it to heart. Tiphanie was a decent narrator, I liked her sense of humor and observations. Since no one will talk to her, Tiphanie spends the first few days of school overhearing the gossip spread by her classmates, so when people finally stop talking to her, she knows all ;) I also admire the fact that she doesn't put up with mess from anyone (although I probably would have gone off on Jackie Sue for trying to tell me my name was spelled wrong). She tells her history teacher about Crispus Attucks (not that he cares) and while she can't tell people off when her parents are around, her snarky commentary entertains the reader. Such as "I didn't want my teachers and my classmates to call me 'Tip Hand Nie.' Just the thought of that happening annoyed me. As did the assumption that Bradley would be my 'ready-made friend.' I didn't like all the Blacks in my last school, so what made her think I'd like Bradley? Did she like all the white people she knew?" (pg. 8) Touche!
*While the premise of Finding My Place is not too original, the setting is. The 70s reference are somewhat more familiar to me and help make this book a bit more unique. I wish the writing had been a bit..more. More descriptive or lyrical. It would have helped this book stand out more. Instead I fear it will get lost in the fray. I don't regret reading this book, it was a "filler" read I suppose. The confident and loyal character of Tiphanie keeps the book entertaining, it's nice to see that while Jackie Sue and Tiphanie may struggle to ALWAYS remain loyal, they do forgive and make up quite often. Ultimately I wanted this book to go further than it did and that has more to do with my own expectations. If you're looking for a book that explores issues of class and race (although sadly not always together. There is a small glimpse of POTENTIAL Black-on-Black class prejudice when Tiphanie is invited to join a Jack-and-Jill like organization. But nothing really comes out of those parts), this is a good book for you. If you like books with regular, strong female main characters this is a book you will most likely enjoy. And if you love the '70s, you will really get a kick out of this story :)
I realize this whole paragraph is rather vague but this is a book I'm quite indifferent on.
Disclosure: From the library