Summary: Keeping It Real
Keeping It Real is Paula Chase’s latest upper middle grade offering. It follows Marigold Johnson, daughter of the media moguls who own Flexx Unlimited. Marigold’s friend and crush, Justice hates their private school where both kids are part of the token number of Black kids. Marigold on the other hand tries to conform to white expectations and fit in with the kids and both she and Justice quarrel about this regularly.
When Justice gets into Flexx Unlimited’s fashion program for teens, Marigold wants to get in as well to avoid summer boredom and spend time with Justice — despite warnings from both parents that she may not fit in with the other kids who are from lower income families. But when her parents get her into the program, one girl in particular, Kara can’t seem to stand Marigold. Add that to the tension between Marigold and Justice and Mari’s summer internship seems more stressful than inspiring.
This was such a “grown-up” read. Paula Chase has a brilliant ability to write for that in-between audience known as upper middle grade. Mari grapples with several complex race-related issues. I loved that this doesn’t focus on racism, but more on privilege within the Black community. Some Black people are poor, while others are wealthy. So how does that work out when both sides of the coin collide?
With Mari and Justice, we look into conformity. Mari is fine enough being the “Black friend” with white girlfriends. She sees their microaggressions and racist comments but is happy to ignore those things and code switch as needed. Justice, on the other hand, cannot pretend to save his life. He thinks Mari is fake — but is she? Is it wrong to want to fit in?
And then there’s the work drama when the kids start the internship as Kara and Mari go head to head. I loved the fast-paced fashion scene and all the styling assignments the teens get to work on. Everything is so realistically portrayed and I liked the resolution, although I would 100% be into a companion novel or sequel to see how things play out in the after.
Overall: Keeping It Real
Keeping It Real is a riveting upper middle grade book about family, privilege, and conformity in the Black community. With a perfect in-between voice, this book is perfect for older tweens and younger teens in the eighth grade and older. Kids who enjoy stories about the arts, friendships, and family drama will enjoy this one.