Summary: Sincerely Sicily
Sincerely Sicily features young Panamian-American Sicily who’s dealing with a major social upheaval: she’s changing schools. After planning to coordinate first-day-of-school outfits and looking up each other’s schedules, she won’t be attending the same middle school as her best friends (the group calls themselves the Tether Squad).
At the new school, Sicily, fortunately, reconnects with an old friend and decides to do her first school project on the culture of the Panamanian people. But her classmates protest the fact that she — a Black girl–can’t possibly be Latin American. Sicily is rattled. Add to that a new crush that threatens to ruin her new friendship and an Abuela who thinks her braids are “ghetto” and it’s looking like a tough year for Sicily. Thankfully, she’s also rediscovering her love for writing just in time.
This was a fresh perspective and a wonderful introduction to Panamanian culture (which I was not at all previously familiar with; I knew Panama existed, but that was it). Sicily’s family also felt very real and I liked the attention drawn to her abuela’s response to her hair.
Unfortunately, the older generation often has different (usually colonially influenced) beauty standards and Sicily’s parents do a wonderful job of standing up for her without alienating her grandmother. However, like typical first-generation immigrant parents, they believe in education toward respectable careers as opposed to studying the arts or trying to get published in magazines, so they insist that Sicily prioritize school work.
Sicily’s grandfather used to journal before he died and he leaves her a journal to explore the creative practice of writing. So she documents one new fact about Panama in her diary every day as she learns more about the country and what it means to be Afro-Panamanian. Readers are in for a treat as we learn how Blacks got from Africa and the West Indies to Panama and why Black Panamanians exist.
Sicily’s friendship with Reyna is very warm and I loved seeing girls be friends with very little unnecessary drama. Reyna is of Filipino descent and Sicily quickly develops a crush on Reyna’s cousin Michael, which causes some tension since the cousins aren’t particularly friendly with each other. There’s some other school drama with a pushy fellow classmate who tries to discourage Sicily from getting published in the school magazine.
Overall: Sincerely Sicily
Sincerely Sicily is a sweet, triumphant debut middle grade novel about being Afro-Panamanian, finding pride in your roots, and discovering the joy of writing. Kids who love writing and enjoy epistolary books or books with diary entries will enjoy this one. It also has a sweet tween crush/romance for those who like them–although Sicily is only in the sixth grade (which felt a bit young for me). Overall, I would recommend this one, especially for readers interested in Black history in South America.