These Books Made Me

The Skin I'm In

June 02, 2022 Prince George's County Memorial Library System Season 2 Episode 8
These Books Made Me
The Skin I'm In
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

This episode finds us in the brutal halls of middle school with Maleeka Madison, a 12 year old girl struggling with self-esteem, peer pressure, and grief in Sharon Flake's The Skin I'm In. Flake's almost 25 year old award winning book takes a hard look at colorism, the burden of low expectations, and the importance of teachers who want to be in their classrooms and in their school communities. We discuss how casually cruel middle schoolers can be to each other, skewed power dynamics in friendships, and cycles of grief and trauma. We also try to figure out just how meta the message about the power of stories and the written word is in this book. Special guest Alicia D. Williams joins us to discuss her own writing about colorism and we use a game of MASH to predict Maleeka's future.

These Books Made Me is a podcast about the literary heroines who shaped us and is a product of the Prince George's County Memorial Library System podcast network. Stay in touch with us via Twitter @PGCMLS with #TheseBooksMadeMe or by email at TheseBooksMadeMe@pgcmls.info. For recommended readalikes and deep dives into topics related to each episode, visit our blog at https://pgcmls.medium.com/.

We mentioned a lot of topics in this episode. Here’s a brief list of some informative articles about some of them if you want to do your own further research:

Notes from the field - non-traditional route to classroom experiences: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/09/i-quit-teach-for-america/279724/

Talking colorism with kids:
https://colorismhealing.com/brief-introduction-colorism-children-young-adults/

Heather:

Hi, I'm Heather.

Hawa:

I'm Hawa.

Heather:

And this is our podcast, These Books Made Me. Today we're going to be talking about The Skin I'm In by Sharon Flake. Friendly warning as always, this podcast contains spoilers. If you don't yet know who lit their classroom on fire proceed with caution. We have special guests with us this week. Could you introduce yourselves?

Kiana:

Hi, I'm Kiana. I'm a librarian who has been an avid reader for most of my life.

Tamika:

Hello, my name is Tamika. I'm also a librarian and I love picture books. Funko pops and vinyl records.

Hawa:

Alright, so thank you so much for joining us today. I wanna start off by asking, like, what did this book mean to you? Was this your first time reading it? Have you read it before? And how did the reread compare to your memories of reading it when you were younger?

Kiana:

This is not my first time reading The Skin I'm In. I actually read it. I don't know what grade I was in, but probably eighth grade. And it meant a lot to me because I am a dark-skinned Black woman. And this book was about colorism and dark skin. So it meant a lot to me just to see myself represented. But the reread of it, I don't actually remember much from reading it the first time, but rereading it the second time I caught a lot more and it felt really good to reread it.

Tamika:

This was my first time reading the book and I wish that I would've read this when I was younger. And it just reminded me of how cruel people really are in middle school. And to let you know that I'm not alone.

Hawa:

Yeah. Kids are so cruel. Oh my gosh. But this was, this was my first time reading the book, even though I had definitely heard of the book and I definitely wish I had read it when I was younger. Yeah. Kiana's actually the one that suggested that we do this. So shout out to you, Kiana.

Multiple Voices:

Thanks!

Heather:

Yeah, this was not my first time reading it either, but I did not read this one as a kid. I read it when I took a YA literature class and it kicked off my rabbit hole of the two Sharons. I went through like a phase where I read like all of the Sharon Flake and Sharon Draper books, and I just thought they were so great. And on reread, I, I still just think this is a really powerful book and she just is such a good observer of what it's like to be an adolescent. It just rings so true.

Hawa:

Agreed. Now Tamika's gonna read us our plot summary.

Tamika:

Maleeka Madison is a seventh grader at McClenton Middle School. She's singled out teased and bullied for being too smart, too tall, too skinny, too poor and too black. Maleeka has hitched onto the coattails of Charlese, a popular and intimidating girl who has also lost a parent and lives with her shop with her shoplifting older sister, a new teacher, Miss . Saunders begins teaching English at McClenton and her radical acceptance of self is life changing for some of her students. Miss Saunders has vitiligo and is as tall and as strong as a man, but believes in herself, loves her own face and body and has left a high powered career as an ad executive to teach at McClenton. Miss. Saunders takes a strong interest in Maleeka, sensing a kindred spirit and sets out to keep Maleeka from slipping through the cracks. Maleeka resents the attention from Miss. Saunders and feels like it is only making her life harder, especially with Charlese who hates Miss Saunders and is upset that Maleeka is starting to exert some independence from her. Maleeka starts to embrace her own potential and talents through writing as a Character in her diary that Miss . Saunders encourages her to work on eventually entering it into a contest. Everything falls apart when Maleeka goes along with Char's plan to get revenge on Miss . Saunders and ends up setting fire to the classroom, leading to her suspension, Maleeka rescues her nemesis, John-John from being jumped by a group of boys for snitching and learns she's won the library writing contest. Ultimately Maleeka stands up for herself and is finally freed from the chains of Char, allowing her to be at peace and love and embrace her whole self.

Hawa:

Thank you so much for that plot summary Tamika, Kiana's gonna give us a little bit of information about our author. Sharon G. Flake.

Kiana:

Sharon Flake was born in Philadelphia in 1955 as the second youngest of five siblings. She attended Simon Grants High School, where she was an athlete and a top student eventually matriculating at the University of Pittsburgh. She received her BA in English at Pitt where she worked as a student journalist. After graduating Sharon decided to take a different path and began working at a residential youth center. She found meaning in her work at the shelter and continued her work with young people by working with children in the foster care system. After almost 10 years in social services, Flake returned to Pitt to work in PR for the university. During this time she was submitting her work to magazines, eventually dabbling in children's literature after the birth of her daughter, she wrote The Skin I'm In in 1998 and gained national recognition for her novel centered on the experiences and stories of African American teens. Flake says of her own work. I take on tough topics and shine, light onto people and places that society doesn't always care to see. I'm an inner city baby at heart and communities like the one I grew up in shall forever remain in my blood. She describes her greatest achievement as hearing from young people that they see themselves in the pages of her book.

Hawa:

Thank you so much for that. Now we're gonna get into the discussion. Uh , so my first question , uh , that we typically like to ask is how did this book hold up? Do you think that it's still kind of relevant? Do you think that there was anything possibly problematic in the book?

Kiana:

I think that it holds up well, considering that it came out in 1998 and the reason I think that is because the way Sharon writes the book, it's just vague enough that there isn't as much like problematic material in it. Mm-hmm, <affirmative>,

Heather:

It's really timeless in a way, when you said that she writes it vague enough that it, it just kind of carries itself. Well, the substance of the book, I think is just, it's so relatable and it's such a genuine experience of adolescence that I feel like even those circumstances might be different for a kid reading it today because maybe the bullying is happening more on social media or, you know, maybe there's other aspects to it. But the substance of it is the same. It's still that people wanna bring you down. Or people who are insecure about themselves are going to look to lash out at somebody weaker to build themselves up. Like those things are all still very relevant and true about just how people are. So I, I felt like it held up very well as, as well.

Tamika:

Yeah. I definitely agree. Like nothing about the books seemed really dated to me and like the topics, like grief living in poverty, bullying those things still apply today. And I'm sure that some kid out there could read this book and relate to it.

Hawa:

Y'all basically said everything that I would've said. No, but I really do think the book held up. Well, there was nothing to me that came across as like being problematic. I mean, yeah, these kids are mean to each other, but like, that's just how kids talk to each other. It wasn't like, oh my God, I can't believe she put that in a book. You know, why did this book resonate with you? If it did resonate with you? I can. I know I can say personally that even though this is my first time reading, it definitely resonated with me because I feel like there's not a lot of media out there. I'll say to meeting books, TV shows, anything like that, that really touches on the topic of colorism. And this book's been out for over 20 years and that I can still say that there are very few things that I feel like really touches on that topic in a way that feels realistic to what I would say could be my experience. So that's why this book really resonated with me. It's funny, cuz in the forward that I, of the version that I have is the 20th anniversary edition and it was written by Jason Reynolds and he talks about how he picked it up when he was working a bookstore and he sat and read it all in like one sitting and how he would use different occasions as opportunities to give this book to like the little, little black girls in his family. And I thought that was really beautiful.

Kiana:

I think that it resonated with me when I read it the first time again, because I saw myself in Maleeka, even though I was not a child that was necessarily bullied for having dark skin. But you do notice that people kind of treat you a little bit different sometimes compared to those around you that have lighter skin. So even if they're not saying it to your face, it does, you can see it in their actions sometimes. So it definitely rang true for me reading it the first time and reading it through the second time I was just like, wow, you know, this holds up so well. And it still resonates with me in how you have to learn how to love yourself, regardless. Even if everyone else is against you, you need to be there for yourself.

Tamika:

There was a part in the book when she entered the writing contest and it reminded me of one of the concepts that I entered when I was actually in high. My English teacher saw something in me and said that I should enter one of my poems and I actually won,

Hawa:

Hey, check you out.

Tamika:

I know

Multiple Voices:

< laugh >

Tamika:

And I really, really did love my English teacher and it kind of reminded me of Saunders. Like she was there for me. I still have a voicemail that I listened to that she sent me back when I was in high school. She unfortunately passed away in November from COVID, but she was really like a mother figure to me. And she wanted me to do and achieve the dreams that I wanted for myself.

Hawa:

Did you hate her at some point?

Tamika:

Not at all.

Hawa:

Oh, okay. <laugh>

Tamika:

No, you couldn't hate Ms . Brown. [laugh]

Hawa:

I also think that a kid picking up this book, you know, a lot of the times I feel like books that are written towards a certain age group that try to depict kids that are a certain age don't fully grasp them. And they come across as younger. Like these are seventh graders, right? And a lot of the times books that I feel like that are supposed to be about seventh graders or media that are supposed to be about seventh graders, they feel younger in the book. I feel like this is pretty on target. It really captures how kind of cruel kids can be in seventh grade and all the different shenanigans kids can be up to in seventh grade. Like these girls were smoking in the bathroom, doing all that stuff. I wasn't doing none of that stuff in seventh grade, but I definitely could say that I knew people that were doing those things in seventh grade. So I think especially in seventh grade, like when you're reading stuff, you're like, ah, this feels so babyish. I'm not reading this. So you end up reading stuff that's supposed to be for older people. So I like that this book would resonate with seventh graders.

Heather:

Yeah. I think that's really on point. And like, just to contrast it with, when we read, Are You There God, It's me Margaret. She's the same age as Maleeka is in this book, right? She's 12 and this is a much more realistic depiction of what is on the plates of seventh graders. Now I think then that is, which really is, you know, we said it was very firmly in the eight to 10 year old range for who should be reading that book. This one feels very on point for like, if you're in seventh grade, this is a great book to read, like it's right where you're at. I briefly taught seventh grade. And I think for me, this book just really hits. So you have Sharon Flake really beautifully capture the spectrum of where kids are at at that age because it's so big. Nowhere except middle school is the range as big as it is then at this particular age, I think so, you know, you have John-John who's small and he's basically just level up schoolyard, taunts. Like he's just cutting this girl down because I think the implication is he likes her, right. He's into her. He liked her when they were in second grade and she went and sat with Caleb instead. And so since then, he's just been trying to like cut her down cuz she made him feel small. That's where he's at. But then you also have, you know, Char who's working parties at her sister's house, which is basically like a speakeasy.

Hawa:

And this was her third time.

Heather:

Charging, admission to that parties. And like

Hawa:

Her third time in seventh grade, did you catch that?

:

Yeah.

Hawa:

< laugh>.

Heather:

So she's 15.

Hawa:

Yeah.

Heather:

Right. And like that happens, you know, and you have the kids that have been held back and there's a huge difference between a 12 year old and a 15 year old. And there's a huge difference between a 12 year old boy and a 15 year old girl. And you can see that, you know, she's smoking cigarettes, she's wearing makeup, she's getting with all different guys. She's acting like a 15 year old acts. She's pretty grown and she's acting like she's grown. And she has no parent in her life cuz because they're gone. And so you have this real range of the kid that's really immature. Then you have Maleeka. Who's also trying to just figure out who she is and what side of things she's on. You have Chars as the like, don't go that way path kid. And you have Caleb as the opposite of that, but he's also more mature than the other kids. And I think that that really is great, cuz so much of what goes on in middle school is about those disparities in maturity, the different stages that everyone's at physically, emotionally hormonally plays in so much. And she really captures that very well. And I feel like that would be so relatable to any kid because you are one of those types. She writes the Characters really believably and you know, it would be easy to make those stereotyped and not have any depth to them. But even the kids that are like hard to like, you know, you're mad at John-John, he's mean to Maleeka all the time, but by the end of the book, you really get where he is coming from. And it's a place of insecurity and it's a place of feeling small and it's a place of walking down the street and now you're getting jumped by these guys because they can. Char the same way. It's like, she's got a tough life, right? Her, sister's not in any position to be raising a child. She's barely past being a child herself. So you can empathize. Even if you know that the Characters are doing things that are not likable.

Hawa:

Yeah. Which is why I think, you know, a lot of times you hear some people say, they're hesitant to say that kids are bad, right. Because you don't know what kids are going through or what is making them like this kids are cruel to each other. Cuz they say things that are cruel to each other, but it doesn't necessarily make them bad cuz they're all going through different things.

Heather:

And that comes up in the book. Right? like Mr. Mac, he's awful. He says basically like don't waste your time on those kids. Yeah. That the kids aren't worth even thinking about that they're bad. And you get pushback on that idea from Saunders and from the principal saying they're not bad. They just need some structure. They need some guidance. They need help. So I think that that comes through in the book as well. Like how easily the kids are being written off, how easily the school is being written off is not worth investing in.

Tamika:

Yeah. And I was gonna say that because, and even you hear the teacher saying that, imagine how the children feel to know that they feel like they're like the bottom of the barrel. Cause like when Maleeka was sitting there talking to Miss Saunders, she was like, why are you here? She said, nobody just comes here. There's like they got kicked out of somewhere else. And they ended up here. It makes them feel like they aren't the best of the best. So they're just getting leftover scraps.

Heather:

And Caleb really speaks to that. Right? Cause he goes, he goes and he's scrubbing the toilets and stuff. You know, somebody needs to do this. If, if none of us care and we just keep treating what we have, like, we don't deserve better. It's not gonna get any better. And I think that's so true too. Having worked in public schools, you feel it when you walk into a public school, the tone there and if the facilities run down and there's been no effort by the teachers or the principals to create a culture, in spite of the bad facility, you feel it, the kids are unhappy. The teachers are unhappy. It's just, the vibe is so bad, but you can walk into a school with a bad facility. But like if people are on board and they, they believe they deserve better than what they have. And that's being like transmitted to the kids, everything is, is much different. But yeah, if you give people crap, they're gonna treat it like crap because you're telling 'em you're not worth more than this. And I think that that's a really powerful message of the book.

Kiana:

What I didn't understand a quick note was that why was Caleb cleaning the bathroom cause for detention?

Hawa:

I was trying to figure out how he ended up in detention too, because I was just like,

Kiana:

Yeah, cuz it didn't sound like what he did was actually something bad unless it was a case of maybe he was, yes, you're doing something good, but you're not supposed to be in here cleaning this <laugh>.

Heather:

Yeah, I dunno about that either actually,

Hawa:

Maybe he was supposed to be in class and he was cleaning up or something or maybe he wasn't, maybe he was a, you weren't supposed to be in this place at all.

Kiana:

Yeah. I just assumed that he had lied to Maleeka. The reason why he got detention, just because

Heather:

See I was going the other way and thinking maybe he lied about being in detention and he just went there

Kiana:

To go see Maleeka, yeah

Heather:

I don't know. Caleb is a complicated guy.

Hawa:

Yeah. That's a possibility, < laugh > He is, you know, and I think there's the whole thing about they were on the, they were dating and they were on the bus and the kids made fun of him. And so he kind of just left her alone and you know, initially when I was reading it, I was just like, okay, so why would she even wanna be with him after that? But you know, I was thinking about it. He had a genuine response. He was thinking, okay, they're making fun of you because I'm with you. Maybe if I leave you, then they won't make fun of you anymore. But they still kept making fun of her.

Kiana:

Right. Yeah.

Heather:

And he did apologize. He did. And like if anybody in this book understands owing to peer pressure, Maleeka should because she's gone along with terrible treatment by Char all the time, just to try to be part of something and not be picked on anymore. I feel like she would understand that and be able to forgive that more than somebody that wasn't also prone to the same kind of wanting to be accepted.

Hawa:

Yeah. I think Maleeka's relationship with Char is very interesting because you know, this is Char's third time in seventh grade, which they don't mention until like halfway through the book, which kind of blows me. Not gonna lie. Backtrack a little bit. Maleeka's dad died. Think he got hit by a bus or something.

Kiana:

Um , tragic car accident. He was a cab driver. Oh he was a cab driver.

Hawa:

Yeah. Sorry. I, I was watching Gray 's earlier < laugh > so, so yeah, he got into an accident and he dies. And so the mom's way of dealing with this, she goes out and buys a sewing machine and she makes all of Maleeka's clothes and she's not great at it. So Maleeka 's like, yeah, I can't wear these clothes to school. They gonna make fun of me. So her, her deal is, I guess she decides that she'll do all of Char's homework if Char lets her hang. So people don't make fun of her and Char brings her clothes, but they still make fun of her anyway,

Heather:

But the clothes aren't even part of it. Char brought that in. Like you didn't ask for, she was just like, you can't be around me looking like that. I'll put you in some other clothes, I guess.

Hawa:

Yeah. And then there's the one time in the hallway where she's like, girl, if you don't go take off my clothes, I'm just like, why are kids so mean? Like

Heather:

She's like Harriet from Addy, but times a hundred. It's awful. They even brought up the like slave relationship at one point with that was just like, oh

Hawa:

Yeah, you're right. Yeah. And it's just like, why are you subjecting yourself to this behavior?

Heather:

Yeah. It just hurts your heart. But that like also like, cause it's going like with her mom, did I ? That was one part where I just am not sure what Sharon Flake wanted us to think about Maleeka's mom, the dad dies. And then the mom is described as like basically being catatonic. She's so depressed that her child is having to at a very young age, she would've been like what like nine or something mm-hmm right. Brush her teeth, feed her. She is keeping her alive.

Kiana:

Right.

Heather:

For a good long time before she kicks in and buys a sewing machine, which is a pretty strange coping mechanism honestly. And clearly there's mental health issues there.

Hawa:

Yeah.

Heather:

But I wasn't sure. Are we supposed to feel very bad for her mom or are we just supposed to view this as like man Maleeka's life really sucked. Look at all of this that she had to get through and the mom is more like a plot device. I just didn't. I wasn't sure what was going on with her mom. Yeah.

Hawa:

Cuz even at one point, I don't remember who she was having a conversation with, but they were like, don't you have any family? And I think she just said that she doesn't have any other family, but I think that the issue was that she said they were busy, but the issue was that would've

Speaker 4:

But if she notified.

Hawa:

...Taken her away from her mom

Heather:

Yeah.

Kiana:

Right, yeah.

Heather:

That's that they would've put her into foster care or something.

Kiana:

Right.

Heather:

And committed her mom

Hawa:

And committed her mom, yes

Heather:

Right. yeah, that was, that was hard. We're seeing her mom at, I guess a much more functional level than she had been, but it still doesn't seem particularly functional. Right. She's sewing poorly all the time. When Miss. Saunders comes to the house to intervene after the watches in the locker and the classroom's burned up and everything, Maleeka's the adult in that situation, her mom is just described as like not knowing what to do. And so she keeps going to the kitchen and then she's hiding behind Maleeka. And so even at her most functional something seems really off and Maleeka says something like people thought her mom was crazy. Or they think something's wrong with her, but I'm not sure what that is. It was really hard for me to get a handle on that character and what was going on with her other than just, it made me feel really bad for Maleeka cuz she's been parenting herself for a really long time and poor thing.

Kiana:

I think grief really changes you. And I think how Maleeka's mother is portrayed in this book just shows that and that sometimes you kind of bounce back from grief, but sometimes you don't fully come back from grief. And I think that depiction of her mother is just kinda showcases that without actually fully saying it Maleeka does mention it when they have that discussion about Romeo and Juliet and how grief changes you. But I think it really just kind of showcased that once her husband died, like that was it. She couldn't, she couldn't function and she's still kind o f, not really as you put it functional. So it is just grief.

Hawa:

Grief is something that's a major theme in this book, without it being like, we're gonna talk about grief cause Char you know, Charlese, both of her parents passed away. I think they, they got, did they get shot? Did I make that up?

Heather:

Did they say how they died? I just remember them saying JuJu had to like raise her,

Hawa:

Sorry. I'm reading The Life I'm In as well. So I think they get into how her parents died in that book. I think they got shot.

Kiana:

Oh,

Hawa:

Okay. It was, but they died at the same time I think. I think it was something tragic like that, but yeah, so she lost both her parents and now her and her sister are just kind of like out here just trying to survive. That's just another different way of showing grief. Her, her sister has to do what she has to do to survive. So she steals all these clothes and has all these ridiculous parties to kind of get by because that's how they're gonna make money. It's not mentioned in this book, but in the other book, in the, the second book, which is focused on Char talks about how her mom was trying to encourage her to go to school. So she went to like community college for a little bit, but then like she ended up dropping out after her parents passed away. And so i t really wasn't really much for her to do, but for her to start having all these extravagant parties and stealing things, because she was only 23 and she was saying how everybody just kind of figured like, you know that her, that JuJu was there for Charlese but nobody was like

Heather:

she would've been really young cuz.

Hawa:

Yeah, she was young. She was young, but she was old enough to where nobody thought this girl needs a mother. I thought that was interesting to read cuz it was almost like she was forgotten about in a way.

Heather:

Well, I mean credit to her cuz she is keeping them afloat financially. Yeah. mean maybe not in the best way, but you gotta do what you gotta do to get by and she's keeping food on the table at least.

:

Yeah.

Heather:

I mean that would have to be just tremendously hard to end up being responsible for your younger sibling with no help at all.

Tamika:

Yeah. I felt really bad for Char though. When at the party, when she was like, I hadn't been to sleep all night and she tried to take a nap and then JuJu was like, I don't pay you to sleep. I pay you to keep the drinks coming

Heather:

Well and it seems like everything.

Hawa:

Oh no, she's not 12. She's like 15, but it seems.

Heather:

Yeah, but still, and clearly like when Maleeka gets to the party, the one guy is coming up to her. Like you wanna dance and everything. So you can imagine that Char had some not great interactions with men at these parties. And like everything from JuJu seems to be centered on money. She's trying to keep Char in school by saying, I'll give you $400. If you don't get held back again. That seems to be the only way she can process things is just it's money. Well, I am taking care of you because I give you these nice clothes and like I'm paying you to do this thing, but it's all very transactional. Like I don't think there's much nurturing there and then when she goes to the school to confront Miss. Saunders, when, when she's failing and in trouble and stuff, you know, she seems to be trying to take care of her sister, trying to push her through, but just kind of in all the wrong ways. It's like, okay, well these are the things a kid needs to do. She needs to get out of this grade. She needs to go to high school. She needs to pass her classes, but she's not really getting what's going on here. She's not concerned enough about why none of those things are happening. She's just trying to make that happen.

Kiana:

I don't think JuJu realizes that Char acting out is a symptom of grief mm-hmm and she's not really trying to see that she's of course blaming the school for Char not passing or being held back and whatnot. And again, we don't know when Char's parents were killed, passed away. So we don't know how long that's been going on. But clearly her acting out is most likely stems from the grief of losing her parents. And nobody is recognizing that from Charlese

Heather:

Yeah, there is just a lot of grief in this book, cuz I would say like even Miss . Saunders there's grief on her part. She has this grief for her community and her neighborhood that's, you know, spurring her to action. Right? She's leaving this career that she's very good at because she thinks this is important to give back. But like you can tell she's just sad for the students at that school. And she's sad that they aren't getting better than what they're being given from these teachers who don't care and from a school system that doesn't care. And from people that have already like given up on these kids, you know, it does make it seem like she and Tai the teacher that's her friend. That's also good. Are the ones that like really came back, you know, instead of just getting out and getting gone.

Hawa:

No, I think that's a good point because you know, there's the part where Maleeka's in the office and other teachers are like complaining about, they don't say her name, but we figure that they're talking about Miss. Saunders. And it really kind of made me wonder, like I, I see why the kids don't like her, what are the teachers complaining about? They're saying, oh, people are calling up here complaining saying that she's giving too much homework. Da da, da, da. And I mean, it's one thing to say that, oh, okay, this is what the parents are saying. But the teachers, I just, I don't, I don't get what they're complaining about. I don't know if they feel like her showing up is just kind of out of nowhere and that she's doing this to make herself feel good or I don't know if they feel like she's there doing all this and now it's making them look bad. It's it's really interesting. And someone makes the comment and I think we were trying to figure out if this was similar to like a Teach for America type of thing. but what made me think that it wasn't was because one of the teachers made a comment like, oh, the principal was basically allowing her here hoping that maybe her big fancy business or company will, will fund us or something like that.

Heather:

They do mention a program because they talk about like getting executives into the classroom. So like

Hawa:

You're right.

Heather:

You're some sort of program there. Yeah. It's a little vague, but it does sound like there's some sort of organized program in this school district to try to encourage people from non-teaching fields to come and teach.

Kiana:

Yeah. It says that the company has a new program, which gives her a year leave of absence to work in the inner city school. Yeah. Another thing that I didn't realize until later in the book, they never really said how old Miss. Saunders was until later in the book, when it said that she was.

Heather:

forties.

Kiana:

in her, her forties and yeah, she had already traveled around the world and you know, she wanted, she was tired pretty much. She didn't have much to live off of like for her herself. It was I'm good at what I do. I was top in the company the last six years straight and I want something more to give back and that's just kind of really what I got from this. And she was like, I wanna teach. And then Maleeka said, is this what you really wanna do? She said, yeah, I think teaching is it for me? Cuz Maleeka asked her if she was going back to her company. And she said, no, she said teaching is [indistinct]

Heather:

She burned out, right. She said something really profound. She felt this weight of I had to be perfect. I think it's when she's talking to Tai and Tai's telling her like you gotta chill out. You're pushing too hard. She's saying I had to work twice as hard as everyone else. I had to dress better than everybody else. I had to always be making up for my appearance, for my, you know, my background. I had to do everything more.

Tamika:

Yeah. She definitely said that I'm a perfectionist because I have to make up for my face. And that's what she believed as a child. And that's when Maleeka overheard her talking to Tai, which I really enjoyed that scene. cause the way that they spoke about, you know, it was the stage and there was all these props for the Wiz and yeah, it was a really nice scene

Hawa:

You could see the little props that she was hiding behind.

Kiana:

Yeah. I was like, oh I probably lived this life before. <laugh> < laugh >

Speaker 4:

Yeah, no, but that was a moment where Miss Saunders was being, it seems really vulnerable because when she sees Maleeka that I was supposed to be with Maleeka over an hour ago and now I see her eavesdropping in this conversation that I'm having where I'm feeling really vulnerable. And I think it was interesting because you know, most of the time in the book we see her as this, like it, it's not specifically stated in the book, but we believe that she has vitiligo. So, you know, she comes across as being this super strong, confident person. Like, you know, she doesn't let anything the kids say get to her, but she she's like, I heard it all before. Anything y'all can say to me, I done heard how many times even worse and from people that actually matter. So it was interesting to have that like moment of vulnerability.

Hawa:

And in comparison to that, Maleeka is someone else who had also has like body image issues because people make fun of her for being dark skinned. But you know, the thing about Maleeka is like, she sees herself as beautiful. She sees that she's beautiful. Especially later on when she like looks back at poems and stuff that her dad left her, that her mom reminded her about. But even before then she saw herself as beautiful. It was more so of why don't other people see me this way. She went and she went to the hair salon and got this haircut and she was just knew she was the baddest thing and she felt so good about it. And then she went to school and people made her feel bad about it. Or people made comments about it, made her feel like, dang, why did I go and do that? You know? So I thought that was interesting to see that kind of comparison between the two as an adult and as like a child

Kiana:

After the incident with the hair, she starts to realize that no matter what I do, , they're still gonna make fun of me. So I might as well just be me and not worry about it. So she realized that that the problem isn't her, it's

Heather:

Them. Yeah. At some point it's not even about her, that conversation she has with John-John about like, why you hate me? What is your deal? And it's not about her. It's about him. It's about him feeling like he got passed over it's about him feeling like he was picked on. And she's like, I didn't even intend that. You know, I just wanted to be able to see the board. But when you're primed to see everything as directed at you, you know, he internalized that and just was on her trying to make her feel as bad as he felt in that moment for years now. Like he really did not let that go.

Hawa:

He's a one heck of a grudge holder. It's interesting because, so that, that whole reason why that he, he picks on her for so long, isn't revealed until later on in the book. But in the beginning of the book, it's mentioned that John-John, and Maleeka are pretty much the same skin complexion and he's always getting on her about being dark skinned. So I guess like, you know, in this conversation that he has with Maleeka, he kind of just expresses like, you know, I feel like you pick the light skinned boy over me. And she just like, it wasn't even that deep, like

Kiana:

I didn't know who he was

Hawa:

You're right, she didn't know who he was back then! Like, you know, and as, I mean, obviously they dated for a little bit because you know, Maleeka and Caleb dated for a little bit, but I think it wasn't, I mean, I can't say for sure, but it wasn't about him being light-skinned and other guy being dark-skinned. It was, he was actually just nice to her.

Kiana:

Very nice. So nice. At the end of the book, I was just like, oh my gosh.

Heather:

yeah. I mean, other than that one incident on the bus, he's a real gentleman. I mean, he's writing her poetry and sneaking her the sticks of gum and like

:

Walking her to class,

Heather:

Leaving her things in our locker. Are we,

Hawa:

Well, nobody leaving things in my locker in seventh grade, actually I lied. Somebody left me a rose in my locker in seventh grade.

Multiple Voices:

<laugh>

Hawa:

I think. And I think even like the incident on the bus where he kind of is just like, yeah, I'm gonna leave you alone. I think it was really realistic. It may sound crazy for me to say this, but I liked that that happened because it really shows how much peer pressure at that age can really just have you leave things alone that you really enjoy

Heather:

And even a good kid, right?

Hawa:

Yeah.

Heather:

Like Caleb is definitely depicted as a good kid. Like he it's

Tamika:

Community service good

Heather:

Part . He wants the best for everyone. He just made a bad choice in the moment he , he made the weak choice, which was Imma save myself here. I don't wanna get made fun of too. I'll go sit up with my boys and sorry, Maleeka. What

Speaker 4:

Was , was the name of the kid who stood up from who , who stood up for Maleeka in class? Because I

Speaker 1:

Guess John Jeremy. Yeah .

Speaker 4:

Cause I guess John-John was going a little bit too hard cuz you know, I guess Maleeka was that kid that everybody made fun of a little bit, but John-John was just going in and the kid was like, yo, why you always getting on Maleeka? Like , what's your problem? What's he do ?

Speaker 3:

And then he was about to fight him over it.

Speaker 1:

<laugh> yeah. Jeremy stood up. He was ready to go. That was, yeah, that was very unexpected. It was like it

Speaker 4:

Like, did they ever mention him again in the book after

Speaker 1:

<laugh> ? I did . I did kind of like assume in my head that Jeremy was part of the group of neighbors that came with like bats and stuff to save the day when, when Don John got beat up. But no, we never hear from him before or after that.

Speaker 2:

And that took place during the Romeo and Juliet scene. Mm-hmm <affirmative> yeah . Yeah.

Speaker 1:

That was, that was a great scene. I loved that chapter where Maleeka does get vulnerable and open up and say like, no it's not. Cuz DESA is saying, you know, oh, it's so beautiful for someone to love somebody so much. They can't live without them. And she has this very romantic view and Maleeka is like, no, that is not beautiful. It's horrible. That was what happened with my mom and dad. And then when he died, she basically couldn't live by herself. I had to take care of her. And I think those moments where she shows Characters being vulnerable that , or when John-John says why he hates Maleeka or when Caleb's trying to make amends for going up on the bus, you know, Miss Saund ers with Tai, I think those are like so nicely written. It

Speaker 4:

Really are like this book feels so real. Mm-hmm <affirmative> I know I keep saying that, but I really mean it like them, even having that conversation in English class, talking about Romeo and Juliet reminds me of how we would sit English class and talk about, you know, these books that I felt had no relevance to what was going on in my life. But then we would start talking about the themes and then you would find the connections that you wouldn't even imagine to be there to begin with. And I think that it just captured so well. And in the author, bio Keanna does mention that, you know, Sharon G flake worked in social services. So I don't know how much of her interaction was with children, but she seems like she has a really good handle on their experiences.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. I like that. The way she depicts her Characters, it especially being in as she's an adult who is writing seventh graders, it's not over the top. Everything that happens is believable to some degree, even the big fire at the end, like you're like, no . Mm . But it still, it feels believable. Oh, that actually could happen. Yeah.

Speaker 4:

That whole thing was kind of crazy to me. I think it was interesting that I know that Char wanted to get a revenge, but my thing is, you know, this is your third time in seventh grade and you know, you just had a falling out with this teacher. Did you not think that they were gonna suspect it was you?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, but she has no impulse control. I mean, that's, I think that's the thing with Char is like there's zero impulse control there. She just is pureed. She just acts on however she's feeling in the moment with everything. Even when it's a really terrible idea,

Speaker 4:

What is with these twins? What do I

Speaker 3:

Say ? Can we talk about the twins?

Speaker 1:

I hate the twins.

Speaker 3:

Sorry, how I'm just like twins. I just like, I'm trying to understand that. What is their story? Why are they following Char like this? And just ,

Speaker 4:

How do they end up being friends?

Speaker 3:

I'm trying to understand. And I wanna know why they don't like Maleeka around. They said that she was corny and ugly, but that was the only sense I received. They

Speaker 4:

Don't like her Khar doesn't like her and I guess maybe they want to be the, the cool kids that are hanging with the older girl who has all the stuff.

Speaker 1:

Well, it's like the pecking order. Right. So it was just them and Char and then Maleeka comes in and she messes up. Now she's the third wheel. Well , I guess the fourth wheel <laugh> but yeah, it just seemed like they resented her being included at all, but then they were kinda like, well, okay, if you do our homework, I guess.

Speaker 2:

Right? Yeah . I also wonder too, if Char being as old as she is in this book, I was actually kind of surprised that nobody made fun of her for being forgetting, held back three times. That's a good point.

Speaker 1:

I think they were all just scared of her.

Speaker 2:

Yeah .

Speaker 1:

Yeah . Because she's threatening people constantly in the book .

Speaker 3:

It didn't matter who

Speaker 2:

It was.

Speaker 3:

No everybody was getting threatened by <laugh> .

Speaker 4:

Yo y'all

Speaker 1:

Were boys, girls and dogs ,

Speaker 3:

Teacher didn't

Speaker 4:

I just remembered that she Char was kissed up on somebody else's boyfriend in the hallway and was gonna let

Speaker 1:

Be for it . She did beat up

Speaker 3:

Before . Didn't say nothing just in it like, mm you weren't there for me this time. I'm gonna see what happens to you.

Speaker 4:

That is wild. But also would that have happened at my middle school? Absolutely. <laugh>

Speaker 1:

It did though with her being 15, then it was wait, Ugh . Once that was revealed, I was kinda like, that's kinda weird that she's messing with a 12 year old.

Speaker 2:

Yeah . Yes .

Speaker 4:

Kia. And I were having this . That's not great. The same conversation. And also now that I think about it, but yeah. Kia and I were talking about it. Like, it's kind of weird that she's like crushing on all these younger guys,

Speaker 1:

But that seems like a power move too. I don't think she's even really into him because it's like, she only is into worm so she can get him away from Daphne. And then as soon as he ditches Daphne, she's like, I don't want you anymore . I want you no more she's on. But

Speaker 4:

Then she's also kind of yeah. And Caleb . Yeah, because Caleb wants Maleeka.

Speaker 3:

Yep . She only wants somebody who wants somebody else or has somebody else.

Speaker 4:

And then I guess she kind of thinks of it like, well, if he like her, he gotta like me cuz look at me and look at her.

Speaker 3:

Yeah . And everybody knows Caleb's gorgeous.

Speaker 2:

Right. <laugh>

Speaker 3:

You said multiple times.

Speaker 2:

Right. But also, I , I wonder if she thinks obviously, you know, us as adults, we're looking at this like Mmm , yep . That, that age gap me, it feels small, but it's actually large. Mm-hmm <affirmative> cause developmentally, like that's a big difference between 12 and 15 or 13 and 15 even. But I wonder if, because she's been held back so many times in seventh grade, mentally. Yeah . She feels like a seventh grader.

Speaker 1:

I don't know. And I also get the sense. Maybe you can speak to this with the book that follows her, that we are supposed to feel like all of these things that Char's doing, like the guys and everything else, she's just craving something that she can control some kind of attention. Like she's trying to exert some kind of control over her life, which is spiraled completely out of her control with her parents dying. And she's just in chaos all the time in her home life. And so all of these like power plays she's making, including with the boys, I feel like it's just a , it's something she can control. She's not good at school. And at this point she's not gonna put the effort in to be good at school. So once then she makes somebody do it for her. Like it's all just kind of, this is something I can be in control of if I'm just mean enough or hard enough or, you know, forward enough, I guess with the guys.

Speaker 4:

I think it's an image thing because I'm gonna reference this book again. I'm sorry. I'm reading the life I'm in. And there's a part where they're on the bus and they're asking each other. So they're basically playing like truth or dare. And one of the questions that somebody asks was like, you know, when did you lose your virginity or something like that? And she takes the dare because she doesn't believe that anybody would believe her when she says that she hasn't done anything like that yet . So I think that with what she was doing in the hallway and trying to , you know, take other people's man , like she was trying to give this image that she was big and bad and done all these things where it makes it sound like she was trying to give that kind of image, but she really hasn't done a lot. She's just like, I'm not even gonna put myself in a situation where I allowed that part of my image to be, you know, affected and just takes it air

Speaker 3:

On the bus, the bus,

Speaker 4:

Alabama, on the bus to your

Speaker 3:

Grandparents. My grandparents are from Alabama, so , oh , <laugh> fun of me.

Speaker 4:

<laugh> yeah. She's interesting. Yeah.

Speaker 3:

She's very interesting. Yeah . And

Speaker 4:

I think MA's also an interesting person because she just wants to be accepted, you know, but we did talk a little bit about her writing. So she starts with an assignment that she's supposed to be doing with, with DESA , but she ends up writing the whole thing. I think the teacher gives them like a dear diary type of assignment. So she writes in this diary as ail. Yes. A slave girl named Akima as she's being brought over. And at first, you know, I didn't really see a connection, but I'm like, oh yeah, like the , she gave the girl the name that's similar to her name. She's even reflecting about things that kind of has gone in her life. Cuz that's when we get the sense of why does everybody see me this way? I see myself this way, you know ? And even down to the relationship with the boy mm-hmm <affirmative> on the ship and it just added another level to the story. I think almost that I almost kind of forgot about until I like tried to reflect.

Speaker 1:

That's kind of Meow , right? Yeah . Like I

Speaker 4:

Think that that's the word

Speaker 1:

Sharon flakes kind of giving us, it's a story about the power of being able to tell and own your story in some way, right? These kids find vulnerability in the English class when they're talking about stories together and that's where they're sort of able to reveal these pieces of themselves. Miss . Saunders finds like real power in opening up about herself and what she's been through and like why she's made these decisions and you see Maleeka processing, a lot of what's going on in her life via this assignment that Miss. Saunders very pointedly gives her. Right? It's like a one off thing. She pairs her with DESA . Who's a very sweet girl. I love DESA . I wanna be her friend. She makes delicious sounding food <laugh> and seems like just a sweetheart. But she pairs them together specifically to get Maleeka away from jar and the twins and sort of bad influence kits. And then she recognizes like you have a real talent, you have a gift and you should keep working on this. I'll give you guys extra credit. If you keep working on this, which gives Maleeka sort of the out to keep doing it for herself because she's not doing it for herself, she's doing it for extra credit. Right. And so she keeps doing it and it's this really cathartic thing for her to like the extent that when she gets sexually assaulted by those older boys, you know, she expresses very clear like PTSD . She can't stop thinking about it. She's crying a lot. Lots of things are triggering, like flashbacks essentially

Speaker 3:

Isolating herself. That was just a very sad

Speaker 1:

Chapter man. That one was spot on for me too. That was the same age I was when I got assaulted. And it's like that just hit, you know, and having that little diary where she can write in a different persona, maybe like the persona of who she wants to be or who she really believes she is that other people don't see to try to process. That was really powerful. And so like, I , I think Sharon flake is like trying to tell us as readers, that stories are really powerful and writing is really powerful and she's encouraging us as readers to write for ourselves mm-hmm <affirmative> and to, to find ourselves in these stories, like it is very like meta and that she's writing a book to tell you that writing a book is very cathartic. And then the book a girl writes a book and it's all these layers, but I think there's real truth in that. And like, especially for kids that are readers yeah . The act of writing can just be so

Speaker 4:

Powerful. Yeah. And you know, her friend sweets, right. Like I almost said, sweetie, like the rapper, her friend's sweets, doesn't go to the same school as her. So it's not somebody that she, I mean, her , I'm sure she talks to her friend about it a little bit here and there. But I think that talking to her friend wouldn't have had the same, I think, impact on her as writing it out would have, especially when she can do it in this way where it's not just like, this is what's happening to me, but she writes it out in a way where it's creative. So it's kind of fun for her, but it's also still detailing what's going on in her life. And I think it must be hard for her to be going to school and not necessarily have anybody that's like actually a friend, the version that I read was a 20th anniversary edition. So it's been a little over 20 years since this book came out. Do you think that things have like changed I guess in terms of colorism or cuz that's a huge part of this book I'm gonna say no, I don't think anything has changed because I think that colorism is something that's not talked about often. This is probably one of two books that I can think of that really touch on the topic. And I think it's something that a lot of people don't really still have a full understanding of. Like I think, you know, as black people we're like, yeah, you know, dang racism sucks. It's crazy. We acknowledge that racism is a thing. There are black people who don't necessarily acknowledge that colorism is a thing. Or they'll say that there's such thing as a reverse colorism. And I don't believe in that because darker skin is not the ideal beauty standard and lighter skin .

Speaker 2:

I agree. Which is why I struggle with this question because I don't think much has changed in the last 20 years because colorism is so it be very subtle. It's definitely insidious. If you call people out on it sometimes then they kind of get defensive and deflective and turn it around about, oh well I have struggles too. Yes .

Speaker 4:

And absolutely.

Speaker 2:

So it's like, yeah, but that's not what we're talking about right now. We're talking about the fact that, you know, you are making comments about somebody's skin color being darker for whatever reason.

Speaker 4:

Like it's a negative thing. Right, right . And it's just like a lot of people who make those kind of comments need to try to unpack. Why do you view that as a negative thing? Yeah.

Speaker 3:

It just reminds me of like brown paper bag tests. Yeah. Like, you know, you gotta be letter than the bag to get in. Yep .

Speaker 2:

I would fail horribly. <laugh> <laugh>

Speaker 4:

Absolutely.

Speaker 3:

It's always interesting. Cuz even like, when I think about like my family growing up, I was actually one of the darker ones in my family compared like, I mean you've seen my sister and you've seen my mom. Yeah. And like, I'm like the darker one of the soul and it's always very interesting that I'm like, oh yeah, like I'm the darker one. I'm not like very dark, but it kind of made me feel differently compared to like my family who has like really light color eyes, more brown hair. And then it was just like, just me.

Speaker 4:

Don't get me started on hair. I could be here all day <laugh> <laugh> . And I think that even as we look at media, I think things are slowly maybe getting slightly better. I do feel like there might be more things that I can look at on. Maybe not more, but maybe like one or two things that I can look at on TV and feel like I'm being reflected in. But then there are also things like, it was like a cowboy Western type thing. And the main, one of the main female Character was supposed to be like stage stage coach Mary or something like that. And like stage coach Mary, I think was historically a darker skinned woman, a heavier woman. And they cast ZZ beats who is biracial, super light skin slim. And I think that I've read articles that mentioned that they felt like they did that so that, you know, the , the love interest was more attractive looking and it's just like, I get why that would work for a story. But if you're doing this based off of someone who was an actual person, you know, and then there was the Nina Simone movie with Zoe Saldon , who was in practically blackface to portray Nina Simone. And at the time she didn't see nothing wrong with it. And then I think years down the line, she came down and like gave like a halfway apology about it, but it's just like that decision made it through so many people, which makes me realize that colorism is not something that is discussed heavily enough, because even if it's a black person, if you have to make that person's skin appear darker for them to portray a Character, then they clearly shouldn't be playing that Character. Right. Yeah . Sorry, not sorry.

Speaker 2:

Had to make her darker. And they had to put a prosthetic on her nose.

Speaker 4:

Oh wow. Just wow.

Speaker 2:

<laugh> um , and also that series on Netflix is called the harder they fall.

Speaker 4:

Yes. That's what it's called. I mean, it was good, but having that context did make me enjoy it a little bit less, cuz it was just like, but why?

Speaker 1:

So I have a question I think pretty clearly not much has changed in 20 years as adults that were the kids 20 years ago. Mm-hmm <affirmative>, we've carried the same issues forward. Right. What about kids now? Do you think things are any better for kids now on some of these issues than they were 20 years ago?

Speaker 4:

That's a good question. So I have a 14 year old brother who is very dark skin , uh , and we always reaffirm that, you know, he has beautiful skin and I , you know, I sometimes hear him on the phone with his friends and they're joking and they'd be like, oh you, you black, you this see that . And you know, he he'll say that to his friends and he's dark skinned . So that kind of made me think about like John-John, how John John was making fun of Maleeka. But like, I think it's a different context because he's talking with his friends that are joking. Granted. I don't make jokes with my friends like that, but kids at 14 joke about things that people, my age wouldn't necessarily joke about in that context. It's something that they're definitely aware of, but it makes me wonder if it's something that is a target issue for him, but it's definitely something that kids are still aware of.

Speaker 3:

And

Speaker 2:

I think that sometimes it's the opposite when you put gender into it, because I know for black boys, it's more acceptable to be dark skin versus light skin cuz light skin boys are quote unquote soft. So, and I think that is also a thing that kids are dealing with. So sometimes with gender it's the reverse, but the colorism is still there.

Speaker 4:

No, you're absolutely right. Because I think what it comes down to is darker skin is associated with being manly. Right. So it's seen as positive in a young boy because it's like, oh you're manly man. But , and a girl is seen as like a negative thing because it's like, oh, you're a manly. Sorry. I felt like I just had an epiphany because I always wondered like why is it that it feels like darker skin is praised more in the boys than the girls. And that kind of made it make sense to me thinking you , I dunno .

Speaker 3:

I definitely like hear you. And I , I definitely think about it, especially when you're talking about like a light-skinned boy. All I could think about is, you know, how kids would be like, oh yeah, he'd probably out here, you know , writing a Drake song. Like <laugh> writing a what? Writing a Drake song, like certified Loverboy type of thing.

Speaker 4:

Oh

Speaker 3:

Man. And then I thought about like Caleb writing those letters <laugh>

Speaker 4:

Oh man. Well, I think, I don't know was it did y'all have any last thoughts on this

Speaker 3:

Book? I just really hope that middle school teachers are still having their students read this book because I really wish I read this book in middle school.

Speaker 4:

I hope so too, because it was really good. I think I would've loved it even more in middle school cuz I would've been like, it just felt so you know how sometimes you feel like people are trying to like really be hip and young with the cool kids. It wasn't trying to be like that. It was just, I said this again. I'm gonna say it again. Real

Speaker 3:

<laugh> <laugh>

Speaker 1:

Each episode, our luminous literary and HAA will provide miscellaneous insights from our book. It's time for Haas's Headspace.

Speaker 4:

Hi everyone. Welcome to Haas's Headspace. A part of the podcast where I literally say whatever comes to mind, rereading the skin and who really took me back to my middle school days as a seventh grader, going to green belt middle school, I lived close enough to walk to school, which gave me a little extra time to watch TV in the morning, usually jamming to MTV music videos or watching power Rangers, S P D sugar were going down by fab boys . The first song that comes to mind. I still remember my first day of middle school look like it was yesterday for the beginning of every school year. I got my aunt to give me fresh braids. My go-to style for that year was twist. My entire outfit was picked out from beltway Plaza mall. If you know, you know, I knew I had to rock my brand new white and light pink high top air force ones. The year was thousand to five don't judge me. Okay. Then I picked out light blue jeans from the store rave , which I'm pretty sure no longer exists to top it all off. I decided on a light pink spaghetti strap tank top and a white cutoff aint hoodie that hooked in the front and had angel sleeves from the store rainbow, which actually is still there. And it's gotten surprisingly bigger. Is this an outfit that I would wear today? Absolutely not. I also got my first iPod in middle school, which is wild because they just recently announced that apple is discontinuing the iPod. So I'm basically old enough to have witnessed a rise and fall of an entire piece of technology while folks there you have it. Thanks for strong down memory lane with me tune in next time to see what else is going on in this head of mine .

Speaker 3:

Now let's talk to someone who actually knows something about one of the main topics covered in this book.

Speaker 4:

Hi Alicia, thank you so much for joining us today. Can you start off by introducing yourself?

Speaker 5:

Sure. Thank you for one for having me and for everyone listening. My name is Alicia D Williams and I am the author of Genesis begins again a little bit about myself. I'm not just a writer or a mother. I don't like to divine myself necessarily by what I do, but the passions that I have and the passions are mental health and self care , physical fitness, and just overall a , a physical health as well as nurturing self love . And whether that be looking for love for yourself and your body, because I was body shamed so long growing up or having that self confidence and self-esteem so my things are, I am on a path of growth of loving and loving myself and loving others. So other than that, I am a writer. <laugh> I'm a writer.

Speaker 4:

So for our listeners who aren't familiar with, your book Genesis begins again. Can you tell us a little bit about the book ?

Speaker 5:

Sure . Genesis begins again is my first, my very first book and oh , when I say that I say that, oh , because I was so nervous on the reception that it was going to get and it came out and it was so well received . So let me tell you, Genesis is a 13 year old girl who hates herself. She hates her dark skin, her hair and the physical features of colorism with her nose and mouth and everything else. And she believes that she's beautiful. Like light-skinned mom and have gorgeous long care like light-skinned mom and dad will loved her and he'll do right and take care of the family. So she goes about having this burden of rescuing what so many children do, rescuing their families from the trauma. With that being said, we all have that thing that makes us unlovable. We all have that one thing that people have pointed out over, over again, or some of us have several things. And it's the comparison that family members tend to do. And you would be a little bit better if you were like more like your sister or you are not as cute as, but you are okay. You got a great personality. These little things that get under our skin stays with us for life. That is what Genesis has done. She found that thing that makes her unlovable and she goes about trying to change it.

Speaker 4:

What I really liked about Genesis begins, again, I like that you touched on her family dynamic and how that impacted how she saw herself. Because I think that a lot of the time, especially as it deals with colorism, I feel like colorism in the black community is still something that people don't talk about enough. And I think that a lot of people don't have a good understanding of it , especially those who are, what many may consider to be the beauty standard. So those who are lighter skinned . So I thought it was really interesting that she had a mother who was the ideal beauty standard to some people. Why did you think it was important to write a book that touched on colorism and the family dynamic and what was that process like for you?

Speaker 5:

How I I'm just gonna say that I got lucky to stumble on this. When I started this story, I really didn't know what it was about. I just knew it was a girl who was being bullied. And I thought initially, because of her heavy set , you know, being body shamed as well as her colorism and I was told that's so much in the book. So I had to unpack it . What is the heart of this story? And that's when I went backwards in developing this story and what I saw now , I like Genesis had a light skinned mom and a dark skin that so one side of my family's light skin , one side of my family's dark skin. And I think the heart of a self acceptance for so many of us is what we get. Like you said, from our family members. That's, that's where it starts. And then it's the outer circle of, you know, getting teased at school. And then what other adults say about you? But it's the heart of the comparison I got from one side of the family to the other side and I was never beautiful. I was always compared. And then I saw it on a wider range, you know, the, of the family across the street, that was all light skin and had the one pretty brown skin daughter, Sheila, but she was different. And then I thought at church, the , the way the older mothers were like, oh, you're so cute. Would you little , you know, I bet you so smart to , to light skin ones and the favoritism and then us brown skin and darker skin complexions was like, oh yeah, I like you , Dr . You know, we didn't get the same affirmation. And so when I started digging into the heart of Genesis and what she was really struggling with, I tapped into those memories and like, aha , colorism. Now I'll be honest with you. I try hard. I tried hard not to make it about colorism. I had one faculty member when I started this story, one faculty member who was black and she told me not to write the story and she didn't tell me why. And I thought, okay, fine. It's horrible. I'm putting it away. I put it in a drawer. I'm like, okay, let me work on something else. So my last semester I had an advisor who was white. So she said, Hey, I heard from your second advisor , another advisor was white. She said, you need to work on a story. I said, no, no, no. I was told last semester, not to work on it. She's like, wait , just send it to me. I said, no, no, no, I'm gonna put it away. You know, I'm over it. It's okay, let's move on. And she said, send me the story. And she said, I don't think it was the writing. I think it was the content. I think the content interrupted her raw. And at that moment I thought, oh my gosh, this woman who is decorated, she's a doctorate. She has many awards, well published and will love . And she told me not to write the book. And she is the one voice at the school that represents somebody like me. I can't write this book because we don't, like you said, we don't talk about it. We may dog each other out and you black. So, and so you, this and that, all of this, we will dog each other out, but we won't address the situation. So when I thought about writing it and completing it, there was that fear. My people are gonna come after me. If I put this out, they're gonna tear me up because we don't do this. I worked in kindergarten, do white school, 97% white. I wanna say that we could one or two black and brown, but students, and this is a diverse black and brown in that little 3%. And I tell you, no matter what, the ethnicity, they knew that they were different. We had diverse color crayons. They wouldn't choose a crayon. They knew their hair was different. They knew even outta the Indian girl , she would not go in the sun. And I was like, why five years old? Even though I knew the Clark baby do experiment, test still exists. I mean, the social experiment is real in the life still. Now. I was like, why, why, why in this 21st century? And that's when I said, okay, it's one thing about writing the story. It's another thing about finishing the story. And I said, they come after me. They come after me, but I gotta do it. And I gotta do it as genuine and authentic as possible. And that's what made me finish that story.

Speaker 4:

Wow. I, so I already said that I love the book, but having that backstory and just knowing what it took for you to finish that story. Yeah. You know, I think that it's important for that age range to have something like that to read. So I just wanna thank you for pushing through. I read this book . I was like, I've literally never read anything like this and it may , oh my gosh . A while . It may even be awhile before I read anything like this. Thank you so much.

Speaker 5:

I appreciate that many nice . I cried at that computer writing that , you know, just trying to get to it. And when you are working on something, you become so much more aware of it. And even as an adult, as I was writing this , I was in , in my forties writing it, writing it. And you know, depending on where one of them , the color types you wore hair, you can't tell where she is . I remember us no matter where we went, we went to a restaurant. They asked her if she wanted something to drink and I'm said , are you right next door? And I was like , um, I'm thirsty too. You know? Or at the, we went out dancing and they were like, the guys were ogling Oling and they got to me and was like, oh, you the chocolate with , on a bunch. And it's just like, oh, why are we still dealing with this?

Speaker 4:

I hate that so much . Why , why gotta be compared to food? <laugh>

Speaker 5:

Do you have if lesser ,

Speaker 4:

A long to go as , so I think it's good that even as kids, they can kind of see that, you know, this isn't something that I have to feel bad about or feel other than this. Isn't something that makes me less than cuz I am still beautiful. And I guess my last question for you is do you have any upcoming releases that you'd like to put on the radar of our listeners?

Speaker 5:

Yes. I forgot to mention that I have two books that I'm so proud of. One that's already out. And if you know anyone that loves biographies, picture book biographies are , uh , for young readers. But my jump at the sun about Zor , Neil Heron . I love, love, love that book. And I hope people embrace it because it has to honor Zora in a way that, you know, with the , the storytelling voice either you love it or you don't because that's that vernacular that is down in the south, right? The black roads and, and Shirley Chisholm dared is about Shirley Chisholm and the , what I have coming out on the radar. I have two things. One is a picture book that is already has a pub date for October 18th and it's called the talk and it's the talk we give our black and brown children to survive, but it's done in such a general way. And I hope people receive it more so than try to fight it and say it's anti-white or anti-police right. It's just pro survival pro survival.

Speaker 4:

You're out here writing what we need to hear. <laugh>

Speaker 5:

Be writing what we need to hear. And then I have a novel inverse that I turned in and I don't know when it will be out, but yes , poetry that same professor and writing poetry and inverse . And I was highly affected by Elijah McCain's last words. Uh , yeah, his, you know, I'm awkward, please. I just, I don't eat meat. Those like, and it just bother me so much why our boys can't be gentle. Why our boys have to choose to be a different, have to wear this massive toughness. And so it's a novel verse of , uh , exploring friendship when they get to the point of high school.

Speaker 4:

Wow. I'm so excited for both of those books that you mentioned. It's just , thank you so much for chatting with me. Thank you so much for writing what you write. I'm looking forward to everything that you're gonna put out and I hope our listeners are too, and I hope you have a great day.

Speaker 5:

Thank you. Thank you so much. <laugh>

Speaker 4:

Okay guys. So today we're gonna do a little game. I don't know how familiar you all are with mash, taking it back to middle school a little bit for this one. So basically, you know, this is how it goes. You have the different categories, right? So like in this, this game that this version that we're playing, it's girls slash boys, cars, colors, occupation, number of kids in a country slash state. So it's basically, you know, you fill everything out and it's supposed to help you predict your future. So we're gonna play mash from Maleeka and we're gonna see what her future is like.

Speaker 3:

I'm so excited. I remember buying one of these mash kits at like the Scholastic book fairs,

Speaker 4:

Scholastic book fair . Wow. You really took us

Speaker 1:

Back. That's really fancy. I just did it in a notebook. And then you draw the weird spiral and like stop and then count the lines. And that was your number? Nope .

Speaker 3:

It was on paper. Yep . Yeah, no, they used to like the little kits. Wow , awesome . It was like made about $5, but it had like pages and you could just, just write in the blank and

Speaker 1:

I'm ready to go. Yeah .

Speaker 4:

Y'all remember the little fortune sellers. Sorry .

Speaker 1:

Yeah . A little like that. You do this with,

Speaker 3:

I actually did that for a library program. Once I found one that actually was geared towards libraries and it was like fun types of books and cute like sections in the library. It was really nice.

Speaker 1:

Daughter made me one for mother's day, last year. And it was all like, just like little affirmations.

Speaker 3:

That's cute. It sounds like daughter leader

Speaker 4:

To me. That's beautiful. Okay. So I'm gonna read this page off. So I'm using, I love mash.com for anybody who may be interested in taking a step back into your childhood. Here's your chance to feel like a pre-pubescent girl. You played it in study hall. You played it at the slumber parties. It's the game of mash. And now it's time to play it on the web. The rules are simple under each category list three items to make the game more amusing, make sure to throw in the names of things that would make you utterly miserable. Baited breath is half the fun. How quickly do you want the computer to process your items? I'm gonna say rapidly cuz it's hot in here. <laugh> yeah .

Speaker 3:

Agree . Go for

Speaker 4:

It. Preferences

Speaker 1:

Mo equal ex boys .

Speaker 4:

Yes . So we're gonna go with that. And then , uh , we gotta list our choices. So which boys did we wanna put under Maleeka's list

Speaker 1:

For? Well, we got a good one with Caleb. That's her? Yes.

Speaker 3:

We have to put Caleb

Speaker 1:

Her heart's hope mm-hmm <affirmative> then we have a terrible one with John-John mm-hmm <affirmative> and then we could either go with worm or we could be kinder to Maleeka and go with Jeremy who did stick up for her that one time. So he'd be the like middle ground . Boy,

Speaker 3:

Let's go with Jeremy. I'm

Speaker 4:

Gonna go with Jeremy because I don't like the odds of her ending up with someone icky.

Speaker 1:

Also. Worm's been like what ? Everybody, but Maleeka <laugh> so maybe she's maybe she's not into that

Speaker 4:

Cars. I , I don't

Speaker 3:

Know cars . Are we sending it now? Or like 20 years ago? <laugh>

Speaker 4:

That's a good

Speaker 1:

Point. Yeah. That's

Speaker 3:

I would just say Toyota Corolla cuz

Speaker 1:

That's that's that's practical. <laugh> then we need to give her one. That's like a total beater.

Speaker 4:

You just have a hoopy

Speaker 1:

<laugh> yeah, that's fine. Put the hoop on there and then like maybe real high end. We give her like a Bentley. Okay.

Speaker 4:

All right . And some colors.

Speaker 3:

Purple. How about yellow?

Speaker 1:

Maybe gold. Cuz she like associates that with Caleb it's like on his dashiki and then it's on the like purple note that he frames her . Okay .

Speaker 3:

Gold. You know I'm never gonna turn down gold. So gold

Speaker 1:

Caleb

Speaker 4:

Occupation

Speaker 1:

Writer .

Speaker 3:

Yeah . Say

Speaker 4:

Like I wanted to put librarian on here cuz we're a bunch of

Speaker 1:

Librarian. That's a good one. And then maybe a teacher,

Speaker 3:

A math teacher.

Speaker 1:

She is good in math. She's

Speaker 3:

Grade in math

Speaker 4:

Number of kids.

Speaker 3:

0, 0, 0

Speaker 1:

Mm-hmm <affirmative>. Then we have to give her one. That's like a lot of kids.

Speaker 4:

10, 9, 10.

Speaker 1:

Kia's giving her 10.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. And then maybe it's safe. Like two or 3, 3, 3, 3

Speaker 4:

Is safe. So country slash state. So where do we wanna put it ? We gotta put our somewhere. Do

Speaker 1:

We even know where this takes place?

Speaker 4:

We don't know . We know it's I think we put Maryland on here for the sake of we're in Maryland. Sure. Yes . Um, something fun. It says country or state. So it doesn't have to be a state. It could be a country

Speaker 3:

France.

Speaker 1:

Ooh , nice.

Speaker 3:

And then let's go with like Alabama. We're gonna send her down there . We shark

Speaker 1:

That's the bad result. Right .

Speaker 4:

All right . So I'm gonna click submit now and I'm gonna let y'all know what she ends up with. Well , actually, so here's how it's supposed to go. I'm gonna click submit. And then on the next page I'm gonna start and then y'all gonna tell me when to stop.

Speaker 1:

Oh, so we do have this viral thing. It's just like mechanical or something. Okay .

Speaker 4:

I'm starting.

Speaker 3:

You do do ,

Speaker 4:

It's just doing lines on the top of the screen

Speaker 3:

And stop.

Speaker 4:

Congratulations. Your husband's name is John . John and you have,

Speaker 3:

Oh

Speaker 4:

Sorry you have zero children. Well ,

Speaker 1:

Maybe that's best for her .

Speaker 4:

<laugh> you're a librarian who drives to work every day in a gold Toyota Corolla. It's truly a wonderful life. When you consider the countless romantic nights you have spent with John-John and your mansion in Alabama.

Speaker 3:

<laugh>

Speaker 4:

You know, what's funny is that I did notice that it didn't give us the option to put a house, but I guess they kind of picked their own, had their own options of a house and then just okay .

Speaker 3:

Yeah . Okay . Well she got a mansion. Yeah. She stuck with John-John. She ain't got no kids. She's she

Speaker 1:

A Libera . She can just stay very far away from him on the other side of the mansion.

Speaker 3:

Oh my gosh. And she's a librarian. I think that's a great occupation.

Speaker 1:

It's fine.

Speaker 4:

In Alabama in the mansion. I never been to Alabama, so I can't talk. You

Speaker 3:

Can come with me next time I go

Speaker 2:

Money probably goes pretty

Speaker 1:

Pretty in places. It's just

Speaker 3:

And it's good food.

Speaker 4:

At least she ain't got no kid . No , I'm kidding. <laugh>

Speaker 2:

Not with John .

Speaker 1:

John , not with John . John , not with John ,

Speaker 4:

John , right? Yeah . So she can leave him if she needs to. Right. I mean then again, she can leave him if she has kids to don't don't take that message to heart y'all yeah. So that was fun. I actually kind of wanna do that again, like with my own life, <laugh>

Speaker 1:

Just see what

Speaker 2:

Happens . Yeah. But the nostalgia is strong. For real. Each episode we ask whether our book passes, the Bechtel test, the Bechtel test asks whether a work features two female Characters who talk to each other about something that doesn't involve men or boys. So does it pass

Speaker 1:

With fineing colors? Yeah. So many female Characters, so many conversations, I guess maybe she talked to her mom briefly about her dad, but that's yeah. It's usually about Maleeka or it's about Char or it's about her mom or , or Saunders , Miss . Saunders or TA like it is a very female-centric book. Well, that's it for this episode of these books made me join us next time when we'll discuss a book in which a family hosts secret parties during war, if you think you know which book we're tackling next, drop us a tweet. We're at PGC MLS on Twitter and hashtag these books made me.

Intro
Guests
What did this book mean to you?
Plot Summary
Author bio
How did the book hold up?
Depiction of colorism
Writing contests and supportive teachers
Depiction of 7th grade
The kids that are being left behind
On being treated like crap and choosing to care
Peer pressure and Maleeka's relationship with Char
Maleeka's mom
Grief
Charlese and JuJu
Miss Saunders and choosing to teach
Maleeka, body image, and self-esteem
Caleb
Romeo and Juliet
Char & the twins
More on Char
Maleeka's writing
Colorism then and now
Colorism and Hollywood