Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Review: Deanne in the Middle by DuEwa Frazier

October 1st, 2014
Deanne in the Middle by DuEwa Frazier

I was contacted by the author of this particular novel a few months back. The initial interest came from researching the book and wanting to see the how a main character of color dealt with adjusting to an environment different from a prior environment.

The book highlights in the beginning, it is for the geeks, over achievers, and nerds. If Im being honest, the journey of Deanne Summers wasnt that much different from my teenage years. Many of her experiences mirrored my own, and while my review will subjective, it was also a bit personal, even if it was unintentionally.

To refresh the initial experience, "Deanne in the Middle" follows the exploits of Deanne Summers, a 14 year old girl starting high school. She and her childhood friends all start up at a Stonywood High, a diverse high school, slightly different then their middle school. For the most part, they are "Southgate Avenue" kids , what I took as a Black Lower to Middle class neighborhood. Not quite rich, not quite poor.
Deanne's struggle comes from whether she should leave her old friends behind, whom are all black, or whether to embrace a more diverse crowd.
I think the pacing of the book is pretty good. I started reading from the first two chapters and put it down, because I was distracted by the consistent use of name brands and things I wasnt sure drove the experience forward, but the story passed "The First 50 Pages" for me. 
Most of the major characters are introduced by then, and I got a sense of not only the normal, but the struggle Deanne was going through.
I got the sense of the world the story was trying to create around me, so I had no issue with that, but I wasnt as sure about a few characters and their reliability. I wasnt 100% sure Deanne's childhood friends Kevin, Michelle and Daphne were meant to be true antagonists. 
I understood that they grew apart due to specific circumstances, but as someone how had experiences similar to this, I wish the story would have explored WHY her friends felt threatened by her new lifestyle.

I had all white friends in middle/high school, and did get made fun of by students that looked more like me. But I was also made fun of by white students as well. I would've liked if the book had explored why her friends had such a strong resentment toward her new lifestyle. She gave them little warning that she wanted to make new friends, and while she didnt owe them anything, in the same situation, I would have felt betrayed if I'd been Deanne's friend too.

It wasnt a deal breaker, but I think it would've been worth exploring.

Deanne was relatable to me. I think at her age she was more socially aware of things I wasnt nearly 15 years ago, but because of that, I was a bit shocked she hadnt considered how her friends would feel about her making new friends.

Deanne was constantly referred to as Oreo, and even her future best friend Kristen told her she spoke well for a "black girl." I was completely smitten that she "checked" her friend, because it reminded me of an experience I had in high school, and Im a bit ashamed to admit, I wasnt good at letting others know the way Deanne did.

Deanne was also an over achiever, and I thought that was a breath of fresh air, but one thing I would've liked more about her, if she had had an interest she loved, but wasnt as good at it as she would've liked to be. She was basically perfect, and I dont think having one flaw makes you worthless. If she'd just had one flaw, I would've liked her even more than I did(which was alot). 

If I mentioned yet, Deanne is African-American. The book explores the vernacular language often spoken amongst peers you resemble more, which I liked. I dont think white readers will catch this, or deem it not being as educated, but I find that more comparable to having a certain comfort level around those that look like you, versus those who dont.

People of color often address each other differently than we address those whom arent of color. I think white people are guilty of it without realizing it too. I tend to cringe every time a girl a Starbucks refers to me as "girlfriend" with a sassy twang. But most of the times, I dont address my peers that are Black/Latino the same as peers whom are White.

There definitely needs to be more YA books with girls of color, and that will never stop getting unique for me. There was plenty of conflict, but I just felt the story wasnt over to me. There were many things I didnt think were fully resolved, including her relationship with her childhood friends.

I think it could've dug deeper in the back story, but it did focus more on the present, which makes a story stronger than having back story. 

As far as grammar, there were three noticeable mistakes. If you read any book, that's basically saying a book's editing is nearly flawless. I had a complaint about the POV, as there were several times it seemed as though it switched from 1st to 3rd person. But the grammar was on point. I was initially going to take a point away for formatting, because the letters seemed a bit far apart and in a bigger font than I usually see in books. But I thought against that, when I considered kids with vision impairments may have an easier time reading it that way. 

I think the book over described details that at times werent important. Many times, the narrator felt it was necessary to point out what characters wore in complete detail. I dont think there's anything wrong with that, but I would've rather known how that related to how Deanne felt about that character. Did an outfit stand out because her crush looked super cute in it? Did a skirt seem short for the character, emphasizing how tall a character was? Did a person dress baggy because they seemed insecure? These were responses I would've liked to know, if clothes were going to be described in that much detail.

Im not 100% sure if this is self published, but if it is, it's definitely one of the stronger efforts out there. The paragraphs start lower on the page, and when they dont, that's a strong implication that a book is self published. And it had graphics, which were cute. But I wouldve liked to know what those graphics stood for.

Im giving it all the diversity points, because there were different kinds of characters throughout the book. Other characters included Jahmir, Palmer, Tiffany and Deanne's guidance counselor Mrs. Jolivette Price.

Although there were times I wished Deanne's childhood friends would've done more to prove their friendship was important to them. I'd hope the characters choices wouldnt affect the reader into thinking negative things about having black friends. Not all black kids think being into certain things makes you "white." I know more black geeks than white ones, but maybe this was perhaps just Deanne's path. I imagine even those she's grown close to now, she might even out grow in time.

Most of the characters were white or black, or biracial. Other races were mentioned, but I would've liked to see more diversity outside of white and black.

I think the title fits the story. It's not complicated, but it suits. The girl on the cover wasn't how I pictured Deanne, but it's nice to see a black girl on a cover of a YA book. 

The character names are cool too. I dont think they're "out" there names, but for the most part, a few I've never seen or I would've thought were common surnames.

My biggest concern I think would be when it came the physical descriptions of characters. This may be something engrained in so many heads, unless you make yourself aware, you dont notice. But race was only ever mentioned when a person was not white. Every time a character of color was introduced, they were introduced by their race first, and then their features. For white characters, they were only described by their features, without pointing out that they're white.

It might suggest a "default" way of thinking, in which unless described as "insert race here" all characters are white. I think if characters of color have to be pointed out, then all of the characters should be. For all I know, woman with a pixie hair cut and pantsuit could easily be Halle Berry. But that's because I'd choose to see her that way. But readers tend to fall into a default way of thinking, and I just think it's best to point out race for every character, or no characters.

Overall, it's a very strong read. I'd definitely suggest it to basically anyone who loves realistic Young Adult fiction!

Dream Cast for main characters:

Deanne- Imani Hakim
Kristen- Bella Thorne
Palmer-Leo Howard
Kevin- Alfred Enoch
Mrs.Jolivette Price- Carmen Ejogo
Jahmir- Mandela Van Peebles


  1. Quote:
    "It might suggest a "default" way of thinking, in which unless described as "insert race here" all characters are white. I think if characters of color have to be pointed out, then all of the characters should be."
    Good point. But I do believe we will get there in the long run (not too long, I hope). The way things have been changing in YA lit. lately, it looks like we're headed the right way :).

  2. @Roberta R. Were definitely hoping :p


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