Friday, February 12, 2010

a review of "From The Notebooks of Melanim Sun" [11]

From The Notebooks of Melanin Sun by Jacqueline Woodson
(Scholastic, ISBN 0-7807-7292-X)

For thirteen year old Melanin Sun, life is pretty darn good. He has his two close friends, Sean and Ralph, palling around their Brooklyn neighborhood and a budding crush on his schoolmate Angie, that might develop into something if he can ever get up the nerve to actually talk to her. He is a good student, if considered a bit of a nerd because of his habit of writing all his thoughts in the notebook diaries he keeps. At home, he has a very close relationship with his mother, who has raised him alone. There have been a few men that she has gone out with over the years, but no one who ever lasted more than a date or two, which is really just fine with Mel.
But things are about to change and Mel's life is about to be turned upside down.

His mother tells him that she is inviting a friend home to dinner and wants Mel to meet her guest. To his surprise, it is not a new boyfriend but someone she met as a law student, a white woman named Kristin. Everyone that Mel knows and has ever dealt with, except a few teachers, is black, so he is not very comfortable with their guest. When his mother tells him the next day that Kristin is not just her friend but the person she is in love with, his reaction is explosive. His mother, the person he considered his best friend, has done something he finds total unbelievable. Not only is she a "dyke", as he calls her, but has fallen in love with a white woman. Soon, it is the talk of the neighborhood, his friends desert him, he even questions his feeling for Angie and, maybe worse of all, he can't talk to the one person he always went to with problems, his mom. All he has left is writing about it in his notebooks.

Regular readers here will know that I totally loved the previous two books by Jacqueline Woodson that I read, "I Hadn't Meant To Tell You This" and "Lena. I can't say enough good things about these two books. The writing was beautiful, the emotions of some very difficult situations so perfectly expressed. But for me, the key was that the characters in these two books were so clearly painted, so clearly that they became truly real people to the reader. And that is why we cared so very much about what happened to them and why their stories effected.

Awww..but what about our book here today, "From The Notebooks of Melanin Sun"? For me, Woodson was not quite as successful here. Don't get me wrong. This is a good book that tackles some difficult subjects, like homosexuality and race and self perception in those difficult teenage years. And it is a book that presents a lot of different points, maybe points we are not comfortable with, points that will make us think. Once again, in this book, Woodson is a beautiful writer that is able to express a great deal in a small book. But the difference for me is that in this book, I was not able to connect with the characters as much as I could in the other two. For me, this is the difference between great and good. Mel, yes Mel, we get to know and understand fairly well, mainly through the excerpt from his notebooks that we read. But his mother, Kristen, his friends Sean and Ralph remain, remained for me, rather unknown players on the edge of the story, characters that I never connected with. And that makes the ending of the story not totally believable for me. And not a story that had as much of an emotional connection.

This was a good, if not great, book for me. It is a book that raises some interesting issues, presented from a unique and different point of view, that of this young, black teenager, Mel. These are timely topics that are of interest to both adults and the intended YA audience, presented in a enjoyable way and I think this would be a good book to be shared and discussed by a parent and teenager, whatever you views on these issues might be.
Bottom line, it was not my favorite Woodson book, but quite a good book nevertheless, and one I would recommend.


  1. Very nice review. I wondered what this one was about. I imagine even a Woodson book that is not the best of hers is still pretty darned good!

  2. Yikes, I've not heard of this author but the books sound really good. I'll have to check into them further. Thanks for the great review.

  3. I tell you, she is like another Judy Blume, in the way she tackles any and every potentially explosive subject. But her writing is so beautiful, so simply and gentle. I'm slowly making my way through everything she has written, so I am sure I will get to this one. Stay tuned in another week or two for a review of another one!

  4. rhapsody, you are totally right.

    Dar, I would recommend you start with "I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This" and Lena...and you will want to read them together, in that order.

    Sandy, I have only read the three so far, but will certainly read more of her books. Besides my two favorite, which did you like best?

  5. I've read raves for Woodson's writing, but I haven't read any of it yet. This sounds good to me even though you say it's not her best.

  6. Kathy, it is good, but I would repeat my advice to Dar. Those books are among my favorites..of all time.

  7. Sounds very thought provoking. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

  8. they can't all be our favorite! :)

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