MMGM and #IMWAYR (6/8/2020): Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams (plus the 2020 Books by Black Voices Giveaway!)
In light of the death of George Floyd and the protests against police brutality toward Black people, I have a few things to mention. First, there is no question that people are woefully uninformed about the ways that racism affects Black people (and about the experiences of Black people in general). In order to help spread some knowledge in a way appropriate for this blog, I am holding the 2020 Books by Black Voices Giveaway, in which I will be giving away copies of Brown Girl Dreaming, New Kid, Genesis Begins Again, and The Hate U Give. Details and the entry form are at the bottom of this post.
Second, I am recommending one of the books that I am giving away: Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams. The review is below. (This is my second MG book review in a row; I will have a YA review next week, followed by an MG review the next week to resume my alternating schedule.)
Finally, I highly encourage you to donate to Black Lives Matter, Color of Change, Campaign Zero, and/or the Official George Floyd Memorial Fund on GoFundMe. You can see some more organizations to get involved with as well as ways to inform yourself in this BuzzFeed article. (I also saw an interesting article on BuzzFeed spotlighting a teacher's recommendations for picture books that deal with racism.)
Review of Genesis Begins Again:
A 2020 Newbery Honor Book, Genesis Begins Again tells the story of Black middle-schooler Genesis Anderson. Genesis lives with her mother and father, and her father (who is addicted to alcohol and gambling) often doesn't pay the rent on time, which means that Genesis has come home multiple times to see her belongings sitting on the street and her dreams of staying in one place and at one school dashed. It doesn't help that various family comments culminating in a drunken outburst from her father have made Genesis ashamed of having such dark skin (unlike her lighter-skinned mother), and she often tries various tricks in secret to lighten her skin. Genesis has become so insecure over the years that she keeps a list of things she hates about herself (which was started by some bullies at a previous school of hers). When Genesis's family moves again, things start to look up for once; Genesis starts to make some close friends at school, and her kind chorus teacher Mrs. Hill helps her realize that she has a talent for singing. But with her father not having changed and her own negative feelings about herself still in full swing, it will take more than a few positives to get Genesis's life back in order.
I haven't seen any reviewers talking about this book aside from Michele Knott at Mrs. Knott's Book Nook, which surprises me, because this book is absolutely amazing! First of all, not only does this book tackle some important and rarely-discussed topics, it does so deftly and sensitively. Genesis's insecurity about her skin color is not something I've ever seen in a book before. Readers get to see the ways in which Genesis's family has, intentionally or not, instilled a shame of darker skin in her, as well as why Genesis's family members themselves care about skin color so much. Genesis's family problems are also well-depicted. Genesis's father is a deeply flawed and sometimes-cruel man, but author Alicia D. Williams makes sure to depict the reasons why Genesis and her mother still care about him, whether those are his good qualities or just pity. Genesis's mother is a more likable character, as she cares about Genesis's well-being and makes sure to separate her from her father when he becomes a problem, but she is multifaceted as well.
Speaking of multifaceted characters, Genesis is one of the most well-developed, unique, and likable protagonists you'll see in a book. She is thoughtful but still relatable, she pushes herself but has many of the same anxieties that other people have, she wishes for some unhealthy things (lighter skin, popular friends) but also learns to find joy in what she has. One thing I wanted to touch on (and which Williams touches on on her website's FAQ page) is that Genesis uses quite a bit of slang in the first-person narration of this book. As Williams notes on the linked page, people often think that people who use slang are not as smart as people who don't, and what I love about this book is that, by having such an observant and clearly intelligent character use slang, the book reminds readers that using slang says nothing about a person's intelligence in any way.
Although this book might sound quite depressing from my summary, it actually isn't too depressing (I mean, it's still sad, but plenty of Newbery Honor books are more sad than this one). One of the most positive aspects of the book is the way that Genesis blossoms at her new school. Genesis becomes close friends with a White girl named Sophia and a Black boy named Troy, both of whom are great characters. Sophia has OCD (which is a slight spoiler, but I could see that coming a mile away), and based on my personal experience, her OCD is authentically depicted, which I appreciated. Sophia is also just an incredibly supportive and kind friend to Genesis, which is nice to see. Troy is a great friend to Genesis as well, and he also tutors her in math, which lets readers see her math skills improve (something I'm sure many readers can relate to). The other characters at Genesis's school are interesting as well; one likable character named Nia was actually inspired by Williams's daughter Nay (as she mentions in the acknowledgements, which I must acknowledge are some of the best-written acknowledgements I've ever seen!). I also love Genesis's relationship with Mrs. Hill, her chorus teacher, who not only helps Genesis see her talent at singing but also introduces her to the music of Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Etta James; I have somehow lived this long without listening to any of their music, but after seeing it described so beautifully in the book, I'm definitely trying some of it out! There's also one particular scene with Mrs. Hill from pages 108 to 113 that I don't want to spoil, but I will say that it is so well-written that emotion and adrenaline practically ooze out of the words.
Genesis Begins Again clocks in at 364 pages, which is somewhat long for an MG book, but the great thing is that no space is wasted. 364 pages is exactly what Williams needed to tell this story, and it really does fly by. All in all, this book is beautiful, fun, painful, touching, and horizon-broadening, and it is absolutely a must-read for pretty much any reader of MG books!
Update (1/2/2021): My rating is: Stunning!
As I mentioned at the top of this post, I am holding the 2020 Books by Black Voices Giveaway in order to spread black perspectives. Before I get into the details of the giveaway, I want to encourage any of you who end up winning not just to read the book you win, but to gift or donate the book afterward to ensure that more people are exposed to these valuable perspectives. Don't let the chain end with you!
- I will be giving away copies of the following books (all books I love written by Blackreview here), New Kid by Jerry Craft (review here), Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams (review above), and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (review here). None of these books are signed. I will give away two copies of the books that the most and second-most entrants want to win; I will give away one copy of the other two books.
- All of the books are new and are being shipped directly from Amazon to the winners.
- Entrants must have mailing addresses in the United States or Canada.
- Enter using the Google Form below, NOT the comments.
- Winners will be selected randomly.
- Although you may choose several books on the entry form, you can only win one book. Click the checkbox in the Google Form that corresponds to each book you want in order to be entered in the drawing(s) for that book. Do not click the checkbox if you do not want the book; in that case, you will not be entered in the drawing(s) for that book and will have no chance of receiving it.
- You must enter an email address so that I can contact you via email for a mailing address if you win. I will not keep or share your email address.
- Please, please, PLEASE give me an email address that you check regularly (including spam/junk), as I will choose a new winner if you do not respond to my initial email within 48 hours.
- You must also enter a nickname for me to post on my blog if you win; it does not need to be your real name (although it can be if you want).
- The last full day to enter this giveaway is Monday, June 15, 2020, as I will close the form the morning of Tuesday, June 16, 2020.
- If you are reading this post in your email, click on the post title to open it in your browser and view the entry form below.