Please note that I received this book via NetGalley. This did not affect my rating or review. This book will be released on August 20, 2019.
So “Color Me In” has a young adult character that I think some readers will definitely enjoy. We follow 15 year old Nevaeh Levitz who is dealing with the fall out of her parents separation. She and her mother are living with her mother’s relatives in Harlem while her mother tries to move forward. Nevaeh feels trapped between the world she came from (rich and affluent) and where she starts to feel more comfortable with her black relatives in Harlem and starts putting together the pieces of her mother’s history. Diaz gets into colorism, being biracial, racism, Judaism, and first love. I think she does a great job juggling all of this, though at times parts of Nevaeh’s journey feels a little forced.
Nevaeh feels like a person split in two. Though she’s biracial (Jewish and African America) she is still seen as a white girl living with her relatives in Harlem. Her mother and father have separated with Nevaeh feeling lost due to her father being gone for two months while her mother sinks further into depression. Nevaeh is finally getting to know her aunt, uncle, and three cousins. We slowly find out that Nevaeh’s father kept her mother from seeing her relatives and there definitely seems to be subtle and not subtle signs of racism coming from him. And we get to see how Nevaeh finds out more about where she came from (on her mother’s side) and how she’s not just one thing.
The secondary characters were developed well though I thought that Nevaeh’s father was just a hot mess. I wish that Diaz had delved more into the father’s actions because it was heavily implied he looked down upon his wife’s blackness, but no one came right out and called his behavior racist. You can see why Nevaeh’s mother is depressed and realizing how she gave up her sense of self (a black woman who was a child of immigrants) to marry a rich man who wanted her to deny that part of herself in order to fit in.
We also have Diaz including a Rabbi (Rabbi Sarah) who starts to teach Nevaeh more about Judaism and prepares her for her Bat Mitzvah. I did find Rabbi Sarah to be a little unorthodox though with how she talks to Nevaeh. I just once again don’t know how realistic that would be with an adult and a 15 year old.
I thought that Diaz’s relationship with her aunt was quite realistic and I felt pangs for Nevaeh trying to fit in with her cousins and the constant rejection from one of them.
I thought the writing was sharp in places, but honestly the way that Nevaeh and her cousins speak though sounded way too old. Not that all teens run around speaking broken grammar, it just sounded like they were making too many speeches. For example, when Nevaeh goes back to her school and addresses the principal and other adults. I just felt like it was too try hard in that moment. Also incorporating some of Nevaeh’s writing/poetry wrecked the flow for me at times. I also thought including Nevaeh’s mother’s diary tripped things up a bit too.
The setting of Harlem came alive based on how Nevaeh sees it, places, and people. Nevaeh’s father’s home seems separate from her and every time she goes back there it gets a little worse.
The ending leaves things slightly unfinished for Nevaeh and her father, but definitely in a more solid place with her mother, aunt, grandfather, and cousins.
I read this for the “Youths” square. This is a debut YA novel.