Some Places More Than Others by Renee Watson

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Some Places More Than Others by Renee Watson

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Rite of passage story about family, secrets and what ties us together: old life and new. An easy but also satisfying read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: September 2019
Publisher: Bloomsbury
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1526613684

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Amara's twelfth birthday is coming up and she wants nothing more for it than a trip to New York to meet her father's side of the family. But her father hasn't spoken to Amara's grandfather for many years - Amara doesn't know why - and both her parents are resistant to the idea. But Amara is nothing if not persistent and a school family history project provides her with the perfect wedge. Eventually, her parents give in and off she goes... with a secret mission from her mother: to bring her father and Grandpa Earl back together again.

How will Amara find the big city? She's a kid from a small town, after all, and New York is big and messy and dirty and crowded and lively: it's a culture shock and, mostly, a good one, full of a cultural - and personal - African American history she'd barely begun to imagine back in Oregon. There's another shock too: her business-oriented father had spent his youth writing poetry! And this seems to be the crux of the mysterious conflict with Grandpa Earl, a man whose idea of masculinity had been challenged by an artsy son. Can the figure of Grandma Grace, who died the day that Amara was born but whose presence infuses the entire book, effect success in Amara's secret mission?

I like the way that Watson subtly inserts issues of class into this story - class is an under-explored social divider that is often overlooked in American literature for young people. Amara lives a comfortable, middle class life in surbuban Oregon. Her father has an executive job; Amara gets all the latest Nike goods (even though at a discount); the family has a cleaner; they get VIP boxes at sporting events. But the New York side of her family aren't so fortunate: her cousins' father is in jail; their house is tiny; they can't afford flights to come and visit, family estrangements notwithstanding. And so Ava sees Amara as spoiled and whiny, while Amara sees Ava as rude and resentful. These things need to be thought about.

The scenes in which Amara takes in black history - the murals, the buildings, the museums, all infused with a shared narrative - are really moving. Amara senses and imbibes a sense of belonging that her suburban upbringing, comfortable as it is, has not given her. The imprint of history is important for us all, I think, and Watson illustrates it with both sensitivity and a real sense of exhilaration.

If I had to nitpick, I'd say the denouement was a little rushed. But otherwise, Some Places More Than Others packs an awful lot into a tightly told story: family secrets and estrangements; rites of passage; cultural history and contemporary divides. A fabulous read for all keen middle grade readers.

More stories about family secrets include The Boy Who Lied by Kim Slater and Secrets, Lies and My Sister Kate by Belinda Hollyer.

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