Draper cover

BUCKEYE BOOK FAIR REVIEW:

Cincinnati author Sharon M. Draper is a professional educator who has served as National Teacher of the Year. In her insightful new middle-grade novel Blended (Simon & Schuster, 2019), Draper has created an amazingly sensitive, talented, and loveable eleven-year-old protagonist named Isabella Thornton. Isabella's dad is black, her mom is white.

Isabella is very conscious of her cafe-au-lait colored skin tone, and her crazy, undisciplined hair. As a biracial child she is struggling with her identity. Is she "mixed" as some of her classmates say, "exotic" as a store clerk exclaims, or "other" as certain official school forms might suggest?  None of these terms resonate with her. So, who is she really?

As Isabella is grappling with her racial identity, she is confronted with another reality: her parents' marriage is disintegrating. She doesn't understand their hurtful bickering and she doesn’t know what to make of her dad’s moving out despite his assurances of always being there for her.

Once the divorce is finalized and a joint custody arrangement is in place, Isabella feels caught in a tug of war between her two parents. Every Sunday is the "exchange" when they meet at the mall and she is passed from one parent to the other.

At her dad's she lives in a huge, fancy home in an upscale neighborhood. Back at her mom's she finds herself in a cozy, modest home which she loves. Her dad is an important attorney, her mom works at Waffle House. Although they both love her dearly, Izzie as her mom calls her, senses the tension between the two adults every Sunday as the exchange is made. She also feels like a different child in each home. So, who is she really?

Fortunately, Isabella has an outlet for her unsettled feelings—she loves music and is a talented pianist. She can lose herself as she plays the Casio keyboard at her mom's or the baby grand at her dad's. She loves to practice and finds great joy and confidence in her playing. She has a demanding classical piano teacher who helps her prepare for a big recital, and on the side, Isabella discovers Boogie-Woogie.

Besides finding solace in music, Isabella is surrounded with caring folks. Along with her close friends at school, she has an understanding teacher who prepares culturally inclusive lessons, as well as expansive vocabulary lists.

On the home front her mom's boyfriend, Jean Marc is tremendously supportive and fun. At her dad’s, his lady friend Anastasia treats her as a daughter. Nevertheless, when both her mom and dad move on to marry their significant others, Izzie has to take stock of what that will mean for all of them and how she will fit into the changing picture.

Through Isabella's voice, Draper demonstrates a keen understanding for how a child of divorce feels and thereby validates such emotions.

There are other multiple subplots to the story. Izzie's search for racial identity is galvanized by an incident at school that victimizes her black friend, Imani. She and her friends become aware of racial tensions at school, racial profiling in the community, and ugly police brutality.

Tackling important issues, Blended is a fine contemporary story, dealing with universal problems as faced by the wonderfully engaging protagonist, Izzie Thornton.

 

Published in The Daily Record (Wooster) on September 29, 2019

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