If you missed my review from last week, you wouldn't know just how much I loved Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson. I'm honored to share part of the book with you today, as well as an opportunity to win a copy of your own.
Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson
Jade believes she must get out of her neighborhood if she’s ever going to succeed. Her mother says she has to take every opportunity. She has. She accepted a scholarship to a mostly-white private school and even Saturday morning test prep opportunities. But some opportunities feel more demeaning than helpful. Like an invitation to join Women to Women, a mentorship program for “at-risk” girls. Except really, it’s for black girls. From “bad” neighborhoods.
But Jade doesn’t need support. And just because her mentor is black doesn’t mean she understands Jade. And maybe there are some things Jade could show these successful women about the real world and finding ways to make a real difference.
Friendships, race, privilege, identity—this compelling and thoughtful story explores the issues young women face.
“Now let’s get to business,” Mrs. Parker says.
I take a deep breath and prepare to act surprised when she tells me she’s nominating me for the study abroad program. She picks up a folder, looks at it, and like an orator who decides to improv instead of using her notes, tosses the folder back onto her desk and asks, “Jade, what do you want?”
To travel with the study abroad program. Maybe go to Argentina.
To taste asado hot off the fire.
To lick my fingers after enjoying sweet alfajores—the dulce de leche dancing on my tongue.
To eat and speak Spanish in Argentina, in Costa Rica. In New York, in California. In job interviews where knowing more than one language moves your application to the top of the pile.
To give myself a way out. A way in. Because language can take you places.
Mrs. Parker clears her throat. “It’s okay if you don’t have an answer yet,” she says. “That’s why I’m here. To help you figure it out. To help you get it once you know what it is.” She picks the folder back up and hands it to me.
The front of the folder shows a group of black women—adults and teens—smiling and embracing one another. Woman to Woman: A Mentorship Program for African American Girls. Mrs. Parker is smiling like what she’s about to tell me is that she found the cure for cancer. But really, what she has to tell me sounds more like a honking horn that’s stuck, a favorite glass shattering into countless pieces on the floor.
Mrs. Parker tells me that twelve girls from high schools throughout the city have been selected to participate in Woman to Woman. Each of us will be paired with a mentor. “Look at all the great activities that are planned for you,” she says. She takes the folder from my hand and opens it, pulling out a sheet titled Monthly Outings:
A Night at Oregon Symphony
Museum Visit at Portland Art Museum
Fun Day at Oaks Amusement Park
“Do you have any questions?” Mrs. Parker asks.
I want to speak up, ask What about the nominations for the study abroad program? I want to ask about that day she looked into my eyes and said, “St. Francis provides opportunities for our students to travel the world,” but instead I ask, “Why was I chosen for this?”
Mrs. Parker clears her throat. “Well, uh, selection was based on gender, grade, and well, several other things.”
“Well, uh, several things. Teacher nominations…uh, need.”
“Mrs. Parker, I don’t need a mentor,” I tell her.
“Every young person could use a caring adult in her life.”
“I have my mother.” And my uncle, and my dad. “You think I don’t have anyone who cares about me?”
“No, no. That’s not what I said.” Mrs. Parker clears her throat. “We want to be as proactive as possible, and you know, well, statistics tell us that young people with your set of circumstances are, well, at risk for certain things, and we’d like to help you navigate through those circumstances.” Mrs. Parker takes a candy out of her jar and pops it into her mouth. “I’d like you to thoroughly look over the information and consider it. This is a good opportunity for you.”
That word shadows me. Follows me like a stray cat.
I stand up. “What happens if I don’t participate?” I ask.
“If you do participate and complete the two-year program—keeping your grade point average at a three point five or above—you are awarded a scholarship to any Oregon college,” Mrs. Parker tells me.
A scholarship to college?
I sit down, lean back in the seat, hear Mrs. Parker out.
She lowers her voice and talks as if what she is telling me is off the record. “You know, my son-in-law grew up in your same neighborhood. He lives in Lake Oswego now. Not a lot of African Americans live there, you know. And, well, he’s a grown man, and even he’s having a hard time adjusting. So, well, I think this school can be hard for anyone, but especially if you don’t really have anyone who, you know, you can relate to. That’s why I selected a mentor for you who went to this school,” Mrs. Parker says. “She graduated four years ago. And now she’s a graduate of Portland State University. You remind me so much of her,” she says.
I don’t say anything. I’ve already made up my mind that I’m going to do this, but I’m kind of enjoying listening to Mrs. Parker beg a little.
“Jade. You’re a smart girl. Are you really going to pass on a chance to get a scholarship to college?”
“I’ll do it,” I say. And then: “Thank you for the opportunity.”
She hands me a sheet of paper with a list of questions on it. “We’ll give this to your mentor before you meet so she can learn a little about you,” she says. She hands me a pen.
I fill out the form.
Name: Jade Butler
Favorite Color: Yellow
And then there’s a question:
What do you hope to get out of this program?
I leave that one blank.
~open to US/Canada only
~one winner will be chosen by Bloomsbury