“Jade believes she must get out of her poor neighborhood if she’s ever going to succeed. Her mother tells her to take advantage of every opportunity that comes her way. And Jade has: every day she rides the bus away from her friends and to the private school where she feels like an outsider, but where she has plenty of opportunities.
But some opportunities she doesn’t really welcome, like an invitation to join Women to Women, a mentorship program for “at-risk” girls. Just because her mentor is black and graduated from the same high school doesn’t mean she understands where Jade is coming from. She’s tired of being singled out as someone who needs help, someone people want to fix. Jade wants to speak, to create, to express her joys and sorrows, her pain and her hope. Maybe there are some things she could show other women about understanding the world and finding ways to be real, to make a difference.”
-Synopsis from Goodreads
Wow. This was such a powerful and moving story. I was already a fan of Renee Watson after reading Some Places More Than Others last year, but Piecing Me Together absolutely blew me away! It was honest, emotional, real, and inspiring.
From the very first page, the writing style sucks you into the story. The reader is inside Jade’s head and in her world right from the beginning. The chapters are named for various Spanish vocabulary words that Jade is studying in school, that also relate to her personal life. They are divided into short vignettes which is one of my favorite storytelling styles.
Jade is an artist at heart and likes to spend time creating collages. Not just pictures that look nice, but pictures that she pieces together that represent her world: her family, her friends, the social injustices the Black community faces, her hopes and her dreams. Jade is an artist, and anyone who sees her work can immediately see how talented she is.
“Photocopied pictures of my mother from when she was an infant till now are spread across the table. I rip and cut and puzzle her back together. The hair of her teen years; her hands, when she used to paint her nails, before they were constantly washing and scrubbing. The smile from her twenty-first birthday. The eyes she had when she was seven, before she really saw this world. All the best parts of her on the page.”-from Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson
As the synopsis mentions, Jade is chosen to participate in a mentorship program for at-risk girls. Jade doesn’t understand why she was picked to be in this program: she has good grades, two parents who support her, and is involved in many school activities and clubs. But when she is told that her participation in the mentorship would guarantee a full scholarship to an in-state college, she agrees to go along with it. She is assigned a mentor named Maxine who also attended the same private high school that Jade attends, and who, on paper, appears to have a lot in common with Jade.
Jade quickly struggles with feeling like her mentor and the program itself are putting her in the box of someone who needs “opportunities” to be successful. Her mentorship group visits cultural sites around Portland each month, which Jade does enjoy, however she feels she is being treated like a poor kid, a charity case.
She feels she is constantly put on display, as though her mentor is talking her up to people just to show that someone from the poor area of town can be a good student, well-spoken with nice manners. Jade ends up skipping out on most of the group activities because they only make her feel bad about herself.
“Here I was, thinking how quickly it happened that I fit in with her friends and how we are easy with one another as if we have shared years of laughter. But then I think, how quick it is that Maxine reminds me that I am a girl who needs saving. She knows I want out and she has come with a lifeboat. Except I just don’t know if I can trust her hand.”-from Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson
In reality, Jade sees herself as someone with so much to give, not someone who needs to be on the receiving end of these “opportunities.” She wants to go on the class study abroad trip to work on her Spanish skills and help support other communities, and hopes that she will be nominated for the trip by one of her teachers. She wants to be seen as someone who can help others, not someone who needs help.
Jade is disappointed in the ways that Maxine treats her. She is also disappointed by the way her friend Sam, speaks to her at times, particularly when it comes to the racism that affects Jade’s daily life. One of the biggest lessons that Jade learns over the course of the school year is that she cannot give up on other people or experiences or herself just because something becomes challenging.
In order to not let herself give up, she has to speak up and say what is on her mind when something bothers her or upsets her. This is easier said than done, but eventually Jade is able to talk openly and honestly with her friends, her teachers, and Maxine to tell them how she really feels. Maxine in particular is pivotal in getting Jade to realize that nothing can change, specifically with regards to the mentorship program and how they are approaching activities for the girls, unless she speaks up. I felt that this especially was a very powerful message for young readers.
“Sometimes I just want to be comfortable in this skin, this body. Want to cock my head back and laugh loud and free, all my teeth showing, and not be told I’m too rowdy, too ghetto.
Sometimes I just want to go to school, wearing my hair big like cumulous clouds without getting special attention, without having to explain why it looks different from the day before. Why it might look different tomorrow.
Sometimes I just want to let my tongue speak the way it pleases, let it be untamed and not bound by rules. Want to talk without watchful ears listening to judge me.
At school I turn on a switch, make sure nothing about me is too black. All day I am on. And that’s why sometimes after school, I don’t want to talk to Sam or go to her house, because her house is a reminder of how black I am.”-from Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson
I think that Jade’s journey throughout this book will resonate with many readers. Even as someone who does not share a similar background or life experiences to Jade, I was impacted by her story and was able to connect with her. I was so eager to see her journey and wanted to see her succeed. The ending was fulfilling on so many levels. I won’t spoil it, but it was a very hopeful ending that I think many readers will be inspired by.
I would highly recommend this to anyone, young adults and older readers alike, and I already know it’s one of my favorite books of this year. I can’t wait to read more of Renee Watson’s books in the future.
Goodreads rating: Five stars