Wednesday, August 10, 2022

I Rise

Arnold, Marie. I Rise
August 2nd 2022 by Versify
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Ayomide Bosia lives in Harlem, New York City, and just wants to do the things other fourteen year olds do-- hang out with friends, go to school, and occasionally chill in front of a television program. What's stopping her? Her social justice activist mother, Rosalie, who founded the group See Us years ago. Ayo's home is filled with art and music by Black artists, her mother has made sure she's well versed in Black history, and she knows all about a wide range of social justice issues because she spends so much time helping her mom organize marches, protests, and community engagement events. It's wearing, and Ayo just wants to be a teen and pursue her crush on the very cute Devonte. She tries to tell her mother that she wants to step back from See Us, but her mother is completely unsympathetic. Ayo also has questions about who her father is, and her mother has refused to address them. Ayo's second chance is to ask to step back iswhen she has her birthday; her mother plans a scavenger hunt, and if she figures it out, she's allowed to get any gift she would like. There's a lot going on as the school year starts. See Us has a march planned to protest police brutality, Ayo has to put up with new teachers who mispronouce her name and are impressed by her mother while also committing microaggressions, and Devonte asks her to get her mother's signature to absolve the football coach who cut off a player's dreadlocks, and whom See Us has been pursuing. Her mother, of course, says no, but Ayo is so irritated with her mother and pleased that Devonte is talking to her that she forges her mother's signature! Ayo's best friend Naija is also having problems-- after not being herself for weeks, she finally tells Ayo about her problems at home. Rosalie steps in and invites Naija to stay with them because Naija's mother refuses to change the situation. Ayo gets in big trouble for forging her mother's signature, but she is enjoying hanging out with Devonte. Of course, her mother's training sticks with her even when she goes to a high school party where there is drinking and drugs; she schools the group on the problems with Black boys dating white girls, and the fact that cigarette companies target the Black demographic. At school, she brings a lot of information to class discussions. When the See Us protest occurs, Ayo is hanging out with Devonte, although they do watch the television coverage. Things turn ugly, and Ayo's mother is shot by a white policeman and ends up in a coma. Ayo, of course, is devastated, and must rely on an uncle and on her community to just make it through each day. There are calls for Ayo to step up and address the public, especially when it looks like the policeman will not be punished. At the same time, Ayo has her birthday scavenger hunt, and with the help of her good friends, starts to work through the clues. Will she be able to reconcile her own life and past with the ramifications of being Black in the US? And how will she find a way forward when her mother is not there to help her?
Strengths: Ayo is a typical teen; she both loves and is irritated by her mother, and she's not entirely sure who SHE is yet. Is she a See Us heir apparent, or can she differentiate herself from her mother? How can she navigate what she wants to do, when her mother and community are directing traffic? This hits all the right notes with the sometimes problematic mother-daughter relationship. I especially love how well Ayo has internalized everything her mother has taught her! So many important topics are covered, and they are discussed in well reasoned ways; Mr. Gunderson is a white person who is interested in being an ally, but makes occasional missteps and is treated in a constructive way. The romance with Devonte might be the big draw for many of my readers, and while he starts out as a problematic character, it clearly becomes apparent that he is a well-raised in a similar manner to Ayo. The storyline with Naija is brief but important, and the scavenger hunt plays into the middle grade concern with personal identity. If nothing else, libraries should buy this as a historic document; we can only hope that society improves in the years after 2022. Ayo and her mother fear it won't, but still cling to the hope that it will so that they can continue their important work in social justice. 
Weaknesses: This puts its toes just slightly over the YA line; Ayo is at a party where there is drinking, but she doesn't partake. She also tries to get Devonte to sleep with her, and even undresses in front of him, but he refuses to take advantage of her grief. There is absolutely nothing instructional, which is always my rule of thumb. The fact that Ayo and Devonte make good decisions and have a constructive conversation about their situation is something that even middle schoolers would benefit from, so I think it would be appropriate for them to read. The n-word is used, but in the context of why the word is problematic. Any issues that anyone might have with this book are all handled in an enlightening and not gratuitous way, and there is no cursing.
What I really think: I will purchase this for fans of Watson's Love is a Revolution, Buford's Kneel,  and Cole's Black Was the Ink, and those who ask for Thomas' The Hate U Give or Stone's Dear Martin

Ms. Yingling

No comments:

Post a Comment