review: Some Places More Than Others

Screen Shot 2019-08-29 at 8.03.24 PMtitle: Some Places More Than Others
author: Renée Watson
date: Bloomsbury; 3 Sept 2019
main character: Amara Baker
This review is based upon and advance copy.

Amara Baker, a suburbanite African American girl, is about to turn twelve and she feels ready to start finding her place in the world. She’s asked her parents to let her travel with her father to visit his family in New York City. They live in Beaverton, Oregon and Amara’s never met much of her family and, she’s never been to the Big Apple. Mom’s not having it, not until everyone weighs in and convinces her otherwise. She relinquishes and allows Amara to accompany her dad while he’s on a business trip to NYC. While there, they stay with his dad who he’s not spoken to in twelve years; not since Amara’s birth. Amara promises her mother to change that and to get the two men talking. She also promises herself to visit all the places on her to-do list.

Shadra Stickland’s cover image of Amara portrays a thick, confident, stylish young girl walking the streets of New York City. Amara’s immediate family is upper middle class; her mother is a clothing designer with her own boutique while her father works as the vice president of sports marketing at Nike. Amara couldn’t help but be a sneakerhead! Her father’s family seems to be solidly middle class. Her Aunt Tracey and her two daughters, Nina and Ava, however, have fallen into rough economic times because her husband is incarcerated. While Ms. Watson makes their financial lack clear, she also provides evidence of warmth and vitality in the family. They’re not defined by their financial lack.

We get a sense of Amara’s privilege particularly when in anger, she blurts something condescending toward her cousins. Amara’s narrative voice is cognitively aware of differences, but she’s not fully appreciating them. This is something the girls have to navigate.

But, this is a story of place and of belonging. Amara expresses a desire to visit NYC but, what she really wants to know is where she fits into this family. Indeed, with the promise of a new baby sister, where indeed does she fit in? Geographic places hold our cultural and familial history, but places in our heart are where we hide our identities. Ms. Watson strategically uses people, places and things to explore what defines us and what makes us who we are. I appreciate that while this is uniquely Amara’s story, it’s a story that requires fully developed friends and family to bring it meaning. It’s a story ensconced in Black culture.

The hair conversation is priceless.

Nina asks me, “You always were your hair like that?”
“In a ponytail?” I ask.
“Straight,” she answers. “Do you ever wear it natural?”
“It is natural.”
Ava jumps in. “Your hair is not naturally straight. You have a perm, right?”
“No. I’ve never had chemicals in my hair. It’s natural. I just flat iron it,” I have never had black girls ask about my hair. Only the white girls I go to school with, especially when it’s braided.
Ava is all, “You can’t say your hair is natural if it didn’t grow out of your head like that.” p. (107)

Oh, these young black girls and the places they will go!

Ms. Watson’s has a well established career as a teaching artist, activist and author. In the summer of 2016, she established the I, Too Arts Collective in Langston Hughes’ former home in Harlem.