Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Some Places More Than Others by Renée Watson

All Amara Baker wants for her twelfth birthday is to accompany her father, a Nike executive, on his next business trip to New York so she can get to know his side of the family better. Maybe she can even learn why her dad hasn't spoken to his dad since the day she was born, which also happened to be the day her father's mother, Grandma Grace, passed away. But Amara's mother, nearing the end of her pregnancy, is not willing to let her go.

Adding to Amara's desire to know that side of her family is an assignment by her teacher called the Suitcase Project. Students are expected to create a time capsule that explores their past, present and future with items that represent who they are, where they are from and what their dreams for the future are. But just when Amara gives up hope of getting to New York, her mother changes her mind and says she can go. And maybe, just maybe, while she is there, Amara can get her dad and grandpa talking so they can mend their rift.

Until arriving at her grandfather's Harlem brownstone, Amara had only spoken to Grandpa Earl, a former basketball coach, on the phone for special occasions. And although her father manages to avoid him, Grandpa Earl and Amara immediately bond. Amara is excited to see the places where her dad grew up in Harlem, and Grandpa Earl can't wait to show her his favorite places, too. No sooner does the week begin, and her dad runs into an old friend who spills the beans about her dad writing poetry in high school, something Amara didn't know about him.

Over the next few days, Amara begins to learn what happened between her dad and Grandpa Earl, even as she begins to formulate how she will present the family history she is discovering on this visit, in part by snooping, in part from Grandpa Earl talking to her and in part from being taken.
to iconic places in Harlem that represent so much of African American history, in a way she has never experienced it at home in Beaverton, Oregon.

But Amara also spends a lot of time with her cousins, Nina, 16, and Ava, 14. She and Ava don't really get along. Sightseeing for Ava is going to H&M, not visiting the murals, statues, and other places she sees all the time. After a family visit to the cemetery where Grandma Grace is buried, the tension between Amara and Ava comes to a head when Ava refuses to "babysit" her cousin again. Angry, Amara decides to make her own way to the East Village and find a place called the Nuyorican Cafe, a place, she had discovered while snooping in her dad's old bedroom, where her dad had wanted to read his poetry on open mic night when he was in high school. But when she finds herself in the Bronx at the Yankee Stadium stop on the subway, Amara realizes she's gone the wrong way. But maybe it's the right way for past hurts and anger to finally be dealt with.

Some Places More Than Others is a really well-crafted coming-of-age novel that explores who we are and how we fit into the world of family and into the wider world, past and present. For Amara, New York and her family there are a whole new world and she can't get enough of it. And everything excites her, unlike her cousins who take it all for granted, not understanding Amara's need to linger and take pictures of what she's seeing for the first time:

"...I am starting to understand by Big T is always saying there's no place like New York. No place else that constantly reminds us that we are important, they we come from a people who sacrificed and fought and protested for us to be able to walk these streets free. What is it like to be reminded of this everyday?" (pgs. 102-103) Watson's message is very clear here - do not forget who you are and where you come from.

I think that Amara is a well-intentioned, but flawed character who nevertheless really understands what her week in New York means for her life, as she says "I want to feel like...there's a history keeping me moving, living. Like the journey I am on has many footprints, may stories coming with me." (pg. 103) Her awakening is such a wonderful part of this story.

I also felt that in Watson's hands, Harlem becomes another exciting character in Amara's identity quest. She has captured all it's beauty from the quiet reverence of the Schomburg Center to the hustle and bustle of 125th Street, and the streets named for famous African Americans - Frederick Douglas Boulevard, Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard, Malcolm X Boulevard, among others. And by the time you finish this novel, you will really appreciate the title of this novel.

Be sure to read Amara's poem at the end of the novel to find out what she puts in her Suitcase Project.

What would you put in a Suitcase Project?

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

Thanks to author Renée Watson for posting Amara's Walking Tour of Harlem on @reneeauthor for those who would like to experience Harlem as Amara did (and yes, it is totally rewarding):

1 comment:

  1. I really loved this book too and, honestly, all of her books!


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