I really loved Color Me In, it was outstanding. It is hard for me to believe this is Natasha Diaz’s debut novel. Color Me In tells the story of Nevaeh Levitz, a black Jewish girl whose parents separate and who moves in with her mother’s family in Harlem. I found this book from a tweet of a friend who retweeted the author.
While I can’t comment on perspective of someone who is coming to terms with their racial identity, I can certainly comment from the point of few of someone growing up Jewish, who didn’t grow up religious. The fact that her father, who was never religious, pushes her to have a bat mitzvah and then tries to snatch it from her at the last minute when it is clear she is getting positive attention from his mother (something he has never had) *cough* I cried. When her poor rabbi is accused of not being “Jewish enough” because she converted to Judaism that hit me personally. It certainly rang true to me for that to be real. An incident where my son was told he wasn’t “really Jewish” happened to him over the summer. The little girl was obviously taught that, so a measure of Jewishness is definitely something taught to people. The bat mitzvah made me cry buckets of happiness. I did see a reviewer express concern that none of the Jewish characters are sympathetic, the dad is a lame mid-life crisis having douche, and the grandma is cold and not very affectionate. To me this is fine, there are not great people from all walks of life. Also, Rabbi Sarah is Jewish and a wonderful, complex character with a warm heart.
I really loved Nevaeh’s grandfather, aunt, uncle, and cousins she moves in with in Harlem. They are wonderful and the way they take care of her mother and help her pull herself out of her dark place is wonderful. The romance is sweet and lovely. I also appreciated how the best friend is a fleshed out character who is not just there to be a plot device, and the villain isn’t one note either. I also really loved how Harlem feels alive, like its own character. For an outstanding book about privilege, race, identity, and finding the courage to speak up, I highly recommend this book. I look forward to seeing what Natasha Diaz writes next.