It’s Saturday and snowing. We haven’t had a particularly snowy winter, but now that it’s March, winter seems to be reminding us not to get too excited about spring just yet. I spent the morning finishing a new “upper middle grade novel” called Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams.
Upper middle grade is an evolving subcategory of children’s books. There are not defined rules for what makes a middle grade novel an upper middle grade novel, but it’s an important distinction. The protagonists of middle grade novels are usually between 9 and 11 years old. Upper middle grade novels feature characters who are 12 or 13. Upper middle grade also addresses topics that are typical of young adult novels: sexuality, war, identity, and more complicated family issues.
Genesis Begins Again fits squarely in the upper middle grade category. At the center of the novel is Genesis, a thirteen-year-old African American girl who is embarrassed by her dark skin. She desperately wants to look like her light-skinned mother. Instead, she looks like her father, who is unreliable and often drunk. Genesis also struggles at school, desperate to make friends while carrying the pain of her family’s precarious economic situation and her increasingly painful (for her and the reader) efforts to lighten her skin. Her grandmother does not help. She carries a deep and misguided belief that “”marrying up” means to marry someone with lighter skin.
Genesis has loving people in her corner though: her supportive mother, new friends, and a chorus teacher who recognizes Genesis’ gifts and encourages her to use her voice. It’s a moving and powerful book, one that I’ll encourage some of our students to read over the summer.
Before that, I read a book opposite in every way from Genesis Begins Again – Jeeves and the King of Clubs by Ben Schott. Here’s how I decided to read a new novel based on the classic stories by P.G. Wodehouse:
While I was on medical leave, I read alot. I wrote about most of those books in my last blog post. When I finished Belonging, the graphic memoir by a woman uncovering her family’s WWII story, I felt exhausted. All of the books were wonderful and interesting in their own way, but between the books and the real life daily news, I was ready for something brighter. I looked back at my list and realized that my reading had addressed: the Holocaust (Belonging), race and identity (Inventing Victoria), Brexit (Middle England), a woman who feels alienated from society (Convenience Store Woman), WWII (Someday We Will Fly) and an intelligent but complex story about the lives of two young women in Dublin (Conversations With Friends). I started thinking a palate cleanser was in order – too many strong flavors! And just in time, I read a wonderful review of Ben Schott’s “homage” to Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster and his valet, Jeeves, Jeeves and the King of Clubs.
It was perfect. The pages were almost fizzy, and something on every page (usually incredibly clever wordplay) made me laugh out loud. The plot is entertaining: taxi chases, a dinner that goes wrong, lots of bubbly at various clubs, and, of course, Jeeves reliably being two steps ahead of everyone.
Time to start a new book, but here are two pictures from this past week in the library….