This is one that lots of other bloggers I trust liked – intriguing enough to induce me to read contemporary YA.
Peas and Carrots by Tanita S. Davis. Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.
The story alternates between the points of view of two teenage girls – Hope, a little shy, dealing with things like her period and auditions for the super-competitive singing group at school, used to helping her family with the young foster children they take in. Dess is a foster kid who’s been shunted from house to house and group home to group home. Now that her mother has been arrested, she’s sent to yet another place, farther away from home. She’s very surprised that her request to visit the four-year-old brother she still thinks of as Baby ends up with her being placed in the same foster family. Neither girl is happy to have to deal with another girl her age. Dess puts on the tough, abrasive face that she’s developed over the years. Underneath, though, she’s still terrified that her abusive, gang-leader dad might track her down, even though he’s in prison, and hurt that her grandmother didn’t take both the siblings back to live with her four years earlier.
This is first of all a story of friendship developing in the face of the initial dislike. It’s also a look at the assumptions we make about race. Did you assume, looking at the cover, that the Black girl is the foster child? You would be wrong – the stable, loving family that Hope belongs to is African-American. (I might have assumed that if I hadn’t read other reviews before reading the book – it was one of the factors that attracted me to it.) Dess has never thought of herself as racist, especially with her adored little brother being mixed race, but living with a Black family forces her to confront the racism she didn’t know she had – things like being surprised to see her foster mother doing yoga. It would have been easy, too, to show Hope as selfish and spoiled, compared with Dess’s huge struggles, but here again Davis doesn’t take the easy route. Just being a teen is plenty hard, and having a parade of needy foster children coming through your home is even harder. And Hope finds she has her own prejudices about teen foster kids to face – but Dess works hard at school and cares passionately about the sewing her grandmother taught her. The alternating viewpoints make you the reader sympathetic to each girl as you’re reading her voice. And though the book deals with some heavy topics, it doesn’t feel heavy-handed or depressing. There’s plenty of humor and real life to carry things along, and I believed in both Hope and Dess all the way. I highly recommend this for readers of contemporary fiction from middle school up. Even if this isn’t normally your thing, you might find yourself drawn in as I was.
Many more thoughts on Peas and Carrots at Charlotte’s Library,