THE PLOT: Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams is a middle-grade novel about a 13-year-old girl from Detroit. There are ninety-six reasons why Genesis dislikes herself. She knows 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 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?
RATING: This book had me bawling my eyes out! Seriously, I cried through the whole thing. As an adult reader of a book meant for 9-13 years old, this book grabbed my heart and I’m giving it four stars. A re-telling of The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison for a younger audience, it sensitively covers racism, colourism and alcoholism. The protagonist, Genesis, is so endearing and her attitude to these hardships makes you want to wrap her in a hug. By sticking to the main theme, the book covers a lot of ground without feeling cumbersome. I wish I’d had this book when I was growing up!
GOOD BITS: I loved the voice and writing style. There are a lot of clever tricks, such as repetition (‘of course, of course’) and vernacular (‘naw’ and ‘hmph’) that make the narrator’s voice so natural. This style in the first-person, present-tense makes you feel like you’re extremely close to the characters – you really feel her pain! I how the adults weren’t either good or bad – they were all complex, such as her grandma’s colourism or her mum prioritizing her husband over her child. These nuances and complexities elevate this book above a typical middle-grade novel to one that can be enjoyed at any age.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: I really wouldn’t change much about this book. It’s a minor point, but there’s a scene where Genesis uses household bleach to try and lighten her skin. Luckily, it doesn’t burn her because that would be extremely harrowing. However, I’d be worried that – because it doesn’t burn – a young reader wouldn’t see the negative consequences of using bleach. It should be fine for a 12- or 13-year-old, but I’d be slightly concerned for an 8- or 9-year-old.
OVERALL: Buy it for you. Buy it for your kids. Buy it for your nephews and nieces. Buy it for your godchildren. Just buy this book! I’d recommend it to lovers of The Cost of Knowing by Brittany Morris, which – though YA – has a similar writing style. I have been wracking my brain for a comparator book from my childhood, but I cannot think of anything remotely similar. I’m so glad this book exists for kids today, and I’m happy that the ‘middle-grade’ moniker didn’t deter me from experiencing this wonderful novel.