In This Side of Home, Identical twins Nikki and Maya have been on the same page for everything—friends, school, boys and starting off their adult lives at a historically African-American college. But as their neighborhood goes from rough-and-tumble to up-and-coming, suddenly filled with pretty coffee shops and boutiques, Nikki is thrilled while Maya feels like their home is slipping away. Suddenly, the sisters who had always shared everything must confront their dissenting feelings on the importance of their ethnic and cultural identities and, in the process, learn to separate themselves from the long shadow of their identity as twins.
Summary: This Side of Home
Twins Nikki and Maya (named after the poets) are watching things change both in their lives and in their neighborhood. They’ve always had the same friends, the boys they both date are friends with each other, and they even go on triple dates with their best friend, Essence and her boyfriend. But now, their neighborhood is gentrifying. The novel opens with Essence having to move from her childhood home right across the street from the girls to a neighborhood forty-five minutes away. By bus.
Still, it’s the girls’ new differences that makes the story interesting. To onlookers, Maya is the “Black” sister who wears her hair in braids, while her sister Nikki who perms her hair and likes vegan food is an “oreo.” Other changes, such as the girls’ new neighbors — a white family — and their new school principal will test the girls’ identities and relationship.
This is one of those books whose blurbs doesn’t tell you even half of the story — and I liked it! So much more happens in this book, although it ultimately follows the growth of both sisters. I love Renée Watson’s writing and enjoyed her book, Piecing Me Together, so when I heard she had another YA novel, I hopped onboard. The high point of this book for me is Watson’s approach to racial prejudice and the idea that gentrification is not all-bad. The girls’ Portland neighborhood is vibrant as they visit food places and shop for clothes.
The story is narrated from Maya’s POV and essentially covers the twins’ senior year in high school. Maya is keenly aware of the way their neighborhood is changing and how it’s suddenly more suited for well-to-do white families. Many of the new stores and food places also seem targeted toward a white audience. Of course, this is upsetting, and she boycotts these places in solidarity. But I loved that as the story progressed, the overall message was one of objectivity and seeing both sides of the coin.
I’d be remiss not to mention how much I love Tony’s character in this novel as well as the mature, realistic way he and Maya deal with their relationship. Another well-handled (and important) angle is Essence’s relationship with her alcoholic mother and her final decision regarding college. I loved the reinforced idea that everyone has different paths, and for some people, that doesn’t include college. Now, I really don’t want to give much away, but read this book!
This didn’t mar my experience of the book, but I would’ve loved to hear Nikki’s story from her POV. Maya is naturally the more interesting character, but I would totally read a book about Nikki or Essence as well.This Side of Home is a celebration of culture, Portland, and the importance of love and respect despite racial differences. Click To Tweet
This Side of Home is a celebration of culture, Portland, and the importance of love and respect despite racial differences. This impressive young adult debut from Renée Watson is thought-provoking, riveting, and full of vivid descriptions of a well-loved Portland neighborhood. It highlights that differences needn’t be divisive and that young people can be more than one thing at a time. If you’re looking for a realistic, contemporary young adult novel that celebrates Black history and features twins, This Side of Home is a winner!
No one does YA like Watson does, for me — I can’t wait to read her forthcoming middle-grade release, Some Places More Than Others. It’s out in September 2019.@harlemportland's YA debut is thought-provoking, riveting, and full of vivid descriptions of a well-loved Portland neighborhood. Click To Tweet
Have you read this book or anything by Renée Watson? What did you think? What are your favorite YA books by Black authors? I’d love to know! You can check out this list of 20 Black YA novels for some great recs.