Author: Ebony Joy Wilkins
Format: eBook (Kindle)
Genre: Contemporary YA
Synopsis: NaTasha has a wonderful life in affluent Park Adams. She fits in, she has friends, and she's a member of the all-white ballet troupe. Being nearly the only African American in her school doesn't bother NaTasha. But it bothers Tilly, NaTasha's spitfire grandmother from Harlem, who decides NaTasha needs to get back to her roots or her granddaughter is in danger of losing herself completely. Tilly whisks NaTasha away to a world where all of a sudden nothing in NaTasha's life makes any sense: Harlem and Comfort Zone in the Bronx, a crisis center where Tilly volunteers her time to help troubled girls get on the right track. Girls who are completely unlike anyone NaTasha has ever encountered. These girls are rough, beautiful, streetwise, sure of themselves, and wield their secrets like knives--and they dislike NaTasha and her world of privilege with a passion.
If there is ever a time when NaTasha feels like running away from something, now is it. But she doesn't. She stands her ground. And what she discovers surprises everyone, especially NaTasha. (Summary from Amazon. And it should be Adams park.)
Sellout is an important novel. It's the type of story that many people can relate to. Most people have felt like they didn't quite fit in for one reason or another. They did things they didn't necessarily want to do just to make a friend or keep a friend they already had. This book will also speak to people who have grown up in a similar environment. It can be difficult to be one of the few black people in a mostly white school. There are not many books that explore this situation. I think Sellout is honest about the types of problems and confusions that can happen from growing up in such a situation. NaTasha's situation will remind a lot of people of themselves. Her hair won't do the same things that her white friend's hair does. Her body is more built for volleyball than ballet. NaTasha tries to tell herself that these are small things but soon she can't deny that maybe she needs to try something different.
Wilkins does a fine job contrasting NaTasha's suburban life with her life in Harlen with Tilly. There's an interesting cast of characters around Tilly's apartment and they all have their own important role in NaTasha's summer. I especially liked the contrast between Amir and Khalik, two guys that NaTasha may or may not have her eye on as the summer goes by. Her encounters with both boys are instrumental in shaping her summer.
The core of the plot revolves around NaTasha's time spent at Amber's Place, a crisis center for troubled girls. NaTasha has a tough time with the other girls there who are much more mature than she is in some ways and also deeply troubled. I was surprised about how far the conflict went between NaTasha and the other girls. I was glad that Wilkins did not shy away from escalating the situation. NaTasha has a good reason to be as distraught as she is about her time there. The turning point doesn't really result from anything NaTasha does directly but it felt realistic to me because girls are constantly changing their minds. There is still plenty of conflict and drama in the second half of the book despite the changes in NaTasha's relationship with the other girls.
NaTasha isn't always an easy character to like but that's what makes the book charming. The reader learns to like NaTasha for who she is just as she learns to like herself the way she is. NaTasha learns who really cares for her in her life and who doesn't. It's an important transformation that every teenager needs to go through. I was really impressed about how this story spoke about hating your own skin and the person you are and how painful that is. One of the girls at Amber's Place, Shaunda, was probably the most fascinating character in the novel for me. There's something innately horrible about wishing you could be something you can never change into and never fitting in. Wilkins captured that pain with Shaunda and we get to witness her redemption.
Sellout is a solid read about a situation that needs to be written about. There are all sorts of black teens out there experiencing different kinds of lives. Whether they are in the inner-city or the suburbs they all have a story to tell. Sellout is that type of story so if you're at all interested in reading something about the black suburban teen experience you should give this book a try.