Review: For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington
I am a girl but most days I feel like a question mark.
Makeda June Kirkland is eleven years old, adopted, and black. Her parents and big sister are white, and even though she loves her family very much, Makeda often feels left out. When Makeda’s family moves from Maryland to New Mexico, she leaves behind her best friend, Lena – the only other adopted black girl she knows – for a new life. In New Mexico, everything is different. At home, Makeda’s sister is too cool to hang out with her anymore and at school, she can’t seem to find one real friend. Through it all, Makeda can’t help but wonder: What would it feel like to grow up with a family that looks like me?
Through singing, dreaming, and writing secret messages back and forth with Lena, Makeda might just carve a small place for herself in the world. For Black Girls Like Me is for anyone who has ever asked themselves: How do you figure out where you are going if you don’t know where you came from?
Author, adoptee, and non-profit educator Mariama J. Lockington debuts on the middle grade scene with the unforgettable and poignant novel For Black Girls Like Me.
A contemporary story centered around the first-person narrative of transracially adopted eleven year old Makeda ‘Keda’ Kirkland, For Black Girls Like Me follows Keda, her parents, and her older sister Eve, as they move from Baltimore to New Mexico. Unhappy about their move away from Maryland, Keda does her best to stay in touch with her best friend from back home, a girl named Lena; the only other Black adoptee Keda knows who has a mixed adoptive family (Keda’s own adoptive family is white). In their new school, Keda becomes the target of a heinous racist attack; the culmination of that- not to mention the constant casual racism and microaggressions that remain untold- lead Keda and Eve’s mom to abruptly, without conferring with their father, pull them from the school system and begin homeschooling. While Keda’s mom rails against racism and institutions, her claims ‘not to see colour’- and thus not see Keda- are destructive, and Keda retreats, dreaming and contemplating the mom she never knew, the person she might’ve been in a family that looked like her, and how Lena- increasingly hard to get in touch with- is the only person she can really talk to. In addition to Keda’s personal struggles, the Kirkland family experiences a horrible turn when Keda and Eve’s mom’s progressively erratic behavior and worsening slumps in mood- noted throughout the novel- reaches a point of fracture.
Told via Keda’s first-person narrative, along with lyrics, poems, letters between her and Lena, and Tumblr posts, the structure of For Black Girls Like Me is at once unconventional but perfect; a blend of story forms that spotlight Keda’s unique voice and the interconnected lines of her young life so far. A standout novel, deeply compelling, lyrical and essential- and the recipient of four starred reviews from publications such as School Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly- For Black Girls Like Me takes readers on a dive into concepts including but not limited to identity, familial belonging, racism, and mental illness.
Extras: Be sure to check out: the website For Black Girls Like Me, with more information author about Mariama J. Lockington, links to author interviews, event listings, and more; the article FOR BLACK GIRLS LIKE ME: We Belong In All Kinds of Stories by Mariama J. Lockington via the Nerdy Book Club, that speaks to the author’s own experiences of homeschooling and growing up in the 1990’s without contemporary middle grade/YA representations of Black girls and transracially adopted children.
I received a copy of this title courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.