Piano-prodigy Isabella, eleven, whose black father and white mother struggle to share custody, never feels whole, especially as racial tensions affect her school, her parents both become engaged, and she and her stepbrother are stopped by police. - (Baker & Taylor)
Eleven-year-old Isabella&;s blended family is more divided than ever in this thoughtful story about divorce and racial identity from the award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of Out of My Mind, Sharon M. Draper.
Eleven-year-old Isabella&;s parents are divorced, so she has to switch lives every week: One week she&;s Isabella with her dad, his girlfriend Anastasia, and her son Darren living in a fancy house where they are one of the only black families in the neighborhood. The next week she&;s Izzy with her mom and her boyfriend John-Mark in a small, not-so-fancy house that she loves.
Because of this, Isabella has always felt pulled between two worlds. And now that her parents are divorced, it seems their fights are even worse, and they&;re always about HER. Isabella feels even more stuck in the middle, split and divided between them than ever. And she&;s is beginning to realize that being split between Mom and Dad is more than switching houses, switching nicknames, switching backpacks: it&;s also about switching identities. Her dad is black, her mom is white, and strangers are always commenting: &;You&;re so exotic!&; &;You look so unusual.&; &;But what are you really?&; She knows what they&;re really saying: &;You don&;t look like your parents.&; &;You&;re different.&; &;What race are you really?&; And when her parents, who both get engaged at the same time, get in their biggest fight ever, Isabella doesn&;t just feel divided, she feels ripped in two. What does it mean to be half white or half black? To belong to half mom and half dad? And if you&;re only seen as half of this and half of that, how can you ever feel whole?
It seems like nothing can bring Isabella&;s family together again&;until the worst happens. Isabella and Darren are stopped by the police. A cell phone is mistaken for a gun. And shots are fired. - (Simon and Schuster)
Boomble. I know that&;s not an actual word, but it&;s a real sound. I can create any musical combination of sounds on my piano. That&;s my superpower.
I sit, hands perched with thirsty fingers, as I get ready to play. I work hard at it, always trying to find the right melodies and harmonies. The upstairs-downstairs
scales that rise and fall. The three- and four-finger chords that stomp. The fingernail-delicate tiptoeing up and down the keyboard, each touch a new sound. White keys. Black keys. One at a time. Chords all together. Two keys make a different sound than three played together. Four or five mashed at the same time is even better. I can do nine keys, even ten, to make a chord, but to be honest, that sounds weird.
Each combination at the piano is different. Bass. Treble. Major tones. Minor wails. Bass like a celebration. Treble like tears.
Five-four-three-two-one. One-two-three-four-five. Up. Up. Up. Down. Down. Down. Harmony. Melody. Chords. Scales. The black keys play sad sounds, like somebody crying. The white keys sometimes laugh. Using only my fingers, I can make the black and white keys dance together and do whatever I want.
When I play the piano, I rock! It would be nice if the rest of my life came together like some kind of a magical musical symphony. But, nah, not usually.
Every week, Isabella has to change gears. She alternates between her white mom and her black dad, who have completely dissimilar lifestyles. Isabella loves both her families, but going back and forth often makes her feel like she has two lives. Her struggle to figure out who she is becomes even harder as the reality of racism hits close to home. An attack on her best friend, who is black, rocks Isabella's school and further confuses her search for identity. Though Isabella's mixed race and struggle to find identity in a world where racism exists are strong components of this book, it is primarily about a child of divorce finding her place in two different families. This is not a criticism; in fact, it makes this an honest and relatable story for a wide range of children. Readers will enjoy the short chapters and Isabella's questioning, conversational tone. Draper (Stella by Starlight, 2015) has written a book in which kids will see themselves, as the experience of being blended touches most lives. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Draper's books are favorites with the masses and the critics. Order extras! Grades 4-7. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews
Accomplished pianist Isabella loves both of her parents. Unfortunately, they no longer love each other, which means she divides her time between two homes and blended families. Having a black father and a white mother also has Isabella examining her biracial identity. A hate incident at school and an unexpected confrontation threaten to tear apart her already fragile world in Draper's perceptive and engaging story. Copyright 2019 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
PW Annex Reviews
Timely and genuine, this novel chronicles a biracial girl's struggle to define her identity and find her voice amid personal and societal expectations. After her parents' divorce, competitive pianist Isabella, 11, divides her time between her white diner-waitress mother and her wealthy black father. The constant back and forth and her family's tense weekly exchanges cause her intense stress, as do the microaggressions Isabella experiences regularly. When a history class discussion about student protests and the history of lynching ends with a noose being placed in a black classmate's locker, Isabella's awareness of racist behavior skyrockets, as does her need to define who she is for herself. Draper (Out of My Mind) doesn't shy away from challenging or uncomfortable topics; police aggression, gun violence, the complicated nature of divorce, and socioeconomic imbalances are all candidly addressed as real and important parts of Isabella's experience. Readers will identify with Isabella's journey to stand up for herself, especially to her parents, whose constant arguing and clear dislike for each other often overshadow her needs: "Chocolate family meets vanilla family in the artificial reality that is a mall," Isabella says. "Caramel daughter caught helplessly between the two." Ages 8–12. (Oct.)
Copyright 2018 Publishers Weekly Annex.
School Library Journal Reviews
Gr 4–7—Eleven-year-old Isabella is biracial; her mother is white and her father is black. Other people sometimes describe her as "exotic," but she doesn't think of herself that way. Isabella is also from a blended family. Her mother, a waitress at Waffle House, has a serious boyfriend, a white guy who drives a truck, manages a bowling alley, and has dozens of interesting tattoos. Her father is a successful corporate attorney who drives a Mercedes and has a serious girlfriend, who is black, an interior decorator with a son that Isabella is looking forward to having for a big brother. Her parents share custody and each Sunday they meet at the mall and do "the exchange." Mostly, it's done curtly, without talking, so Isabella "hates, hates, hates it." She finds solace in playing the piano and practicing for a big recital. Shifting between two sets of parents, no matter how much she cares about them and how different their lifestyles are, is hard. As new tensions begin to rise, Isabella works to find her place in the world. Draper has a way of speaking to the heart of tween concerns. The dialogue is realistic and the alternating chapters between Isabella's time with her mom and dad underscores the protagonist's discomfort moving back and forth between them. The story could have ended there and worked well as a frank, honest portrait of a modern, blended family. But a dangerous, racially biased event near the end of the novel offers a deeper exploration of the unique struggles faced by young people of color. While the event is disturbing, Draper writes with grace, compassion, and respect for the intelligence and emotional lives of young readers. VERDICT This is Draper at her best, penning a current and ultimately uplifting story. It deserves a place on library shelves along with her other outstanding works.—Carol Connor, Cincinnati Public Schools, OH
Copyright 2018 School Library Journal.