Teenie by Christopher Grant 2010
Knopf Books/Random House Children's Books
IQ "Whenever I look in the mirror, I can see little traces of my ancestors. My bronze complexion, like my hair, is probably from the mixture. My full lips show my West African heritage, and my straight, narrow nose has Western Europe all over it. When it comes to my green eyes, well, I haven't been able to pinpoint that one yet. I really don't like the way I look because I look so...different and mixed up." Teenie pg. 18
High school freshman, Martine (Teenie) desperately wants to be accepted into a prestigious study-abroad program in Spain. Teenie loves Brooklyn, but she wants to see other places as well and she really wants to get away from her strict West Indian parents for a bit. She loves her parents but they don't allow her as much freedom as she would like. The captain of the basketball team, Greg, starts to take an interest in Teenie while at the same time, Cherise (Teenie's best friend) is meeting up with a guy she met over the Internet. Teenie has a bad feeling about Cherise's relationship and Greg is proving to be a distraction that affects her grade. Teenie needs to pull herself (and Cherise) together.
There isn't anything I really didn't like about this book. At first, I worried that the humor would come at the expense of Teenie's West Indian parents (her mother is from Grenada with Portuguese and Syrian blood and her father is from Barbados with Irish and Carib Indian heritage). Her mother is serene and not a source of humor, but Teenie's father is hilarious, strict and he has his sweet moments. Teenie talks about her big West Indian family with a mixture of pride and embarrassment (don't we all feel the same way?), she mocks them but there is love beneath her words. "My family there [Barbados] uses curse words for the smallest things. Don't let them get angry, because they're liable to lob some serious vulgarity, the harshest being 'God blind yah.' That's deep." (pg. 10) HA! Teenie's father and her descriptions of her family will have you laughing, but much of the humor also comes from Teenie's relationship with Cherise. Cherise is fast-on-her-feet and she does not hesitate to diss those who insult Teenie (only she can do that). I found the friendship between Teenie and Cherise to be authentic, at times they grow closer, always having each other's backs (for example when Greg first talks to Teenie, Teenie is too shy to speak. Cherise tells Greg she has laryngitis. Classic!) but then they grow angry with each other and drift apart. That's a quintessential aspect of high school friendships, they are constantly changing and that is reflected in Teenie. While the reader (and deep down, Teenie) know Cherise is making a mistake meeting this strange guy from online, it's hard to fault her for getting angry at Teenie. Yes Teenie is looking out for her but Teenie's help ends up having some 'serious' consequences that make Cherise angry. I have to admit, I would most likely be angry like Cherise first and it would take me awhile to calm down.
Teenie is, for the most part, a fresh-faced, innocent freshman. Boys make her nervous and when she wears a tight-fighting, she is unprepared to handle all the attention she receives. She wants to be noticed but she has no idea how to talk to any guy, except Garth. I think a lot of us have a Garth in our lives in some form. Garth has a crush on Teenie and part of that comes from Teenie being one of the few people to actually talk to him. Garth is big and very smart, which results in him being made-of by the kids at school (including Cherise). Teenie can talk to Garth because he's just a friend and he's a wonderful friend. He's extremely timid but he tries to be tough at one part and it's so awesome to read about because I did not expect such actions from Garth (that's a sign of a good author, he made me view Garth in the narrow view of the other students!). Greg asks Teenie for a 'blessing' and while I'd never heard of that term before (is it a NYC thing? Or just a teen thing? I discussed this with some of my friends and none of us knew this term but we thought it was quite funny and we may be using it ;), I was able to figure out what it meant. Unfortunately, Teenie had no idea what a blessing was and I was expecting a humorous incident but instead it turns into an awful experience. It's an awful experience that needs to be in this book and needs to be discussed a lot more than it is currently.
Teenie is an upbeat story that did not go in the direction I expected (the summary is rather vague now that I think about it) but I'm so glad it didn't. My sister is in 8th grade and she asked if she could read this book and I'm going to give it to her because I think this is a must-read for girls going into high school. Especially if you don't feel comfortable talking about certain issues regarding the opposite gender with your parents (which is 100% understandable). I like that this summary doesn't hint at the issues it addresses because this book goes beyond the issues. Every member of Teenie's family is fleshed out, including her two twin college-aged brothers (who are so much fun to read about but they made me not want an older brother anymore) as well as Greg, Garth and Cherise. I also loved the brief bit about God. So many YA books don't mention God at all and maybe most teens don't have a religious upbringing. But personally, I'm forced to go to church and it was refreshing to read that Teenie was forced to go as well. Even better, her faith strengthens her a bit but she doesn't have some flashy revelation/miracle type thing, it's subtle. Don't miss out on this story, it's told with both levity and maturity, Teenie hasn't completely grown up yet (after all she's only a freshman) but she's beginning that confusing and exhilarating thing called high school and it's great to see more and more contemporary multicultral novels appearing in which race isn't the driving factor.
Disclosure: BOUGHT =D
PS Read my interview with the author (which gives you a glimpse of the funny potential of Teenie)