GENESIS BEGINS AGAIN
by Alicia D. Williams
Simon & Schuster
Middle Grade/Tween Contemporary
This deeply sensitive and powerful debut novel tells the story of a thirteen-year-old who is filled with self-loathing and must overcome internalized racism and a verbally abusive family to finally learn to love herself.
There are ninety-six things Genesis hates about herself. She knows the exact number because she keeps a list. Like #95: Because her skin is so dark, people call her charcoal and eggplant—even her own family. And #61: Because her family is always being put out of their house, belongings laid out on the sidewalk for the world to see. When your dad is a gambling addict and loses the rent money every month, eviction is a regular occurrence.
What’s not so regular is that this time they all don’t have a place to crash, so Genesis and her mom have to stay with her grandma. It’s not that Genesis doesn’t like her grandma, but she and Mom always fight—Grandma haranguing Mom to leave Dad, that she should have gone back to school, that if she’d married a lighter skinned man none of this would be happening, and on and on and on. But things aren’t all bad. Genesis actually likes her new school; she’s made a couple friends, her choir teacher says she has real talent, and she even encourages Genesis to join the talent show.
But how can Genesis believe anything her teacher says when her dad tells her the exact opposite? How can she stand up in front of all those people with her dark, dark skin knowing even her own family thinks lesser of her because of it? Why, why, why won’t the lemon or yogurt or fancy creams lighten her skin like they’re supposed to? And when Genesis reaches #100 on the list of things she hates about herself, will she continue on, or can she find the strength to begin again?
Genesis' excitement at finally having found friends crashes as their sudden visit to her home ends with the family's entire belongings on the front lawn. Thanks to her father, they've been kicked out of the house again, and her new found friends turn this into a chance to make even more fun of her. If the problems with her father and their family life weren't enough, they now are moving in with her grandmother who has a sharp tongue and a harsh attitude as far as Genesis' father is concerned, and claims it's due to his skin color—very dark black. That's Genesis' color too, and she hates herself for it. Especially since her mother and grandmother have such a beautiful skin tone. Genesis is determined to find a way to make herself lighter because she can't stand to be in her own skin anymore. Maybe then her life will turn around.
This book starts with a scene which rips at the heart strings and continues to hit Genesis' life with a reality which bites. But then, that's how Genesis' life is and especially her perception of herself. The author lets the feelings lay open in their realistic harshness. That racism isn't simple and exists in every horrible variety becomes clear in these pages. It's a topic not often hit upon, and yet, one which also touches reality.
Genesis does step on some dangerous territory as she goes to extremes to change her skin color...some moments made me hold my breath. Because of this, I would not recommend it to the younger spectrum of middle grade readers but see upper middle graders as well as tweens at a better place to process and understand what's going on. Sensitive readers might also have troubles with some moments. Otherwise, it's a read that induces thought and leaves an impression.
The author makes sure to steer the entire thing in a healthy direction and leave the reader with hope and more understanding. It especially makes for a good read to lead to discussions concerning racism, bullying and self-worth. The four hundred pages is, unfortunately, on the heavy side for a middle grade read, especially one concerning such a heavy topic. This might make it a little less accessible to the intended age group.
But these pages are definitely worth a read, and the tale hits a nerve, one which will leave the reader with plenty to think about long after the book has been laid down.