Malcolm and Me: A Novel by Robin Farmer
Number of Pages: 240
Publishing: November 17th, 2020
Source: Publisher via Negalley
Opening Lines: "The penguin is in a wicked mood today, Geoffrey whispers, as he passes my desk in eighth grade history class on the way to the pencil sharpener."
Malcom and Me takes place in 1973 in Philadelphia, some time after the Watergate Scandal broke. Roberta Forest attends a private Catholic school and is excited about her upcoming thirteenth birthday, as well as a writing contest that she can't wait to enter. Roberta generally enjoys school, but dislikes that she is only one of a few black girls who attend. In school they've been learning about the Declaration of Independence and Thomas Jefferson. During one of their group discussions, Roberta refers to the former president as a hypocrite for saying that "all men are created equal" while at the same time owning slaves. Her comment doesn't sit well with Sister Elizabeth who responds by using a racist insult and then proceeds to slap Roberta. When Roberta tries to defend herself, she is kicked out of class and sent to Mother Superior. Following their disagreement, Sister Elizabeth takes ill and Roberta's faith in God is shaken. Angry, hurt and feeling a little guilty about what transpired, Roberta turns to the words of Malcolm X and starts reading his autobiography. She also writes poetry to help her cope with her feelings. While at home, her relationship with her mother becomes further strained, and her parents begin to argue making an already difficult situation that much worse. After her suspension from school is over, Roberta learns that she is no longer eligible to compete in the school's writing contest. Devastated by the news, Roberta once again feels hurt that she seems to be the center of everything going wrong in her life.
Malcolm and Me is based off of an experience the author had in the sixth grade. It's an impactful story that discusses issues of racism, religion and parental separation. At first glance, the cover makes this look as if it's a YA book, but it's really geared toward middle grade, those kids who are interested in more meaty topics with engaging characters. Roberta is a talented, strong minded girl, who's very proud of being black. Sister Elizabeth see's her as being defiant, willful or rebellious, someone in need of discipline. Even Roberta's mother calls her mouthy and they both try to punish her, hoping it will bring her under control. I really liked Roberta, the way she stands up for what she believes in. She is instrumental in getting the school to reevaluate some of their practices. The events that transpire are seen through Roberta's perspective, providing a glimpse of what it is like to be a teenage girl of color during the time period of hot pants, ten speed bikes, Mission Impossible and Kool-Aid. I really felt sorry for Roberta as she began to question her faith in God, wondering whether the Catholic school was the right place for her. Her sadness over her parents arguing was also palpable. I'd pair Malcolm and Me with Blended by Sharon Draper or maybe The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert. A lovely #ownvoices story that draws inspiration from the authors own lived experience.