On Sunday night I finished Yolanda’s Genius, a Newbery Honor book from 1996 (that would be the year I graduated from high school, by the way). And I’m finding reviewing it to be a complicated process, partly because I’m not–quite–sure just how much I liked it. (Let’s face it–I don’t exactly have regular problems forming and sharing opinions…) Here goes nothing, I guess!
1)Basic Plot: Yolanda’s family moves from Chicago to a Michigan suburb because her mother fears for her children’s safety; even the suburbs, however, have their dangers. Yolanda is tasked with both protecting her little brother and finding a way to convince their mother that he’s actually a musical genius, all while settling in and learning how not to let her mistakes get in the way of making a friend.
2)Writing style: My preferred writing style is more on the ‘lyrical’ end of the spectrum; Yolanda’s Genius is more just–straightforward. (Not necessarily simple. The Book of Mormon scripture where Nephi glories in plainness comes to mind, actually.) It works for Yolanda, and while it doesn’t seem particularly moving at first, there are passages that I found myself overwhelmed with emotion while reading. In fact, I started this book several years ago and put it down because of how successfully the author described the pain involved in one of her key plot points. It may not be my usual style, but there’s definitely something to it.
3)Resolution: While somewhat improbable, the ending was satisfying. So was the middle, actually.
4)Point to Ponder: Can a white woman successfully write a novel from the perspective of various members of a black family? If I don’t think so, does that mean I automatically think that a black woman can’t successfully write a like novel about a white family? I’m inclined to think it’s a bit less about race and more about culture; I would feel more comfortable writing a novel about a black family who grew up in an area and circumstances familiar to me than one about a white family from a distant, wildly different culture. Some aspects of culture are probably tied to race or ethnicity, but I don’t believe all of them are. I did wonder, though. What do you think?
5)Bottom Line: I actually think this one is worth your time. I didn’t find Yolanda to be completely likable, but I was certainly cheering her on (mostly) before the book was halfway over. And for parents and teachers who find Andrew’s loss to be almost unbearable, don’t worry–it comes out okay in the end.