by Sharon Draper
Overall: 3.5 out of 5 stars
This review is going to be chock full of spoilers because it was advertised (on the front flap; Draper’s website gives the tiniest hint of what’s to come) as a book about a biracial girl in search of her identity but it does NOT say that she survives a police shooting. I think I know why they left that out (my guess is that getting shot by the police is never something you’re prepared for in real life) but for a middle grade novel I do NOT think that should be just sprung on a reader. I know Millennials are widely mocked for their trigger warnings, but there is something about it. It just seems unnecessarily cruel to not give a 10-year-old (or younger) a heads up about reading about that.
I wasn’t a huge fan of this book almost from the start, but I bumped up its star rating because in the end I do think it’s an important story to tell, even if I disagree with certain aspects of its telling. So let’s back up and start with the basics. Blended is the story of 11-year-old Isabella, whose white mother and Black father have been divorced for a few years. They share custody, with Isabella changing homes every Sunday at 3pm on the dot, which she resents. They each have a new partner who lives with them and Isabella even has a quasi-step-brother. She gets along well with each and during the story each couple gets engaged, which you might think would be the main plot, but no. Isabella’s dad at one point says that he and her mom “didn’t see color” when they started dating, which I thought was a really weird thing for a Black author to have a Black character say. I’d be curious to hear Draper’s thoughts on that.
Some racial violence appears at Isabella’s school, in the form of a noose appearing in her friend Imani’s gym locker, and a white boy gets suspended for it. (It was obvious from previous scenes who put the noose there but for some reason no one knows for sure who it was at first, which was weird.) Imani is shaken up by that for a long time, but then that plot goes underground until they are followed in a fancy store at the mall by a security guard. I was glad that Imani and Isabella had each other (as Isabella tells her mother, she knows the Black half of her is what people see, and it’s what she puts down on school forms – she says it’s “stronger” which is an interesting word choice) because their other best friend, Heather, is a white girl.
I really appreciated Draper’s inclusion of just a few of the micro-aggressions that Isabella and Imani face (like when Izzy’s crush – a white boy – tells her that she must get her good looks from her white mother) and hope that it helps non-Black kids understand what that’s like. Isabella’s teacher tries to address racial issues in class and as far as I can tell does a decent job.
And then we get to the shooting. It just comes out of absolutely nowhere, which I’m sure is how it feels to those who have experienced it. Isabella’s on her way to her piano recital when the police pull Darren over, thinking he had just robbed a bank. They handcuff him and pin him down and tell her not to move either. When they uncuff him, with no apology, Isabella reaches into her pocket to get her cell phone and call her parents to tell them they’ll be late and a jumpy policewoman shoots her. The bullet grazes Izzy’s arm; she falls and hits her head and is taken to the hospital.
This story was just all over the place, the writing was a little hokey, and frankly had too much going on for me. I’m not sure it’s a middle-grade book, though I don’t doubt that 4th and 5th graders need age-appropriate stories about racial violence and police shootings. It just didn’t feel like Draper’s best, and I do think kids deserve a heads up before entering into an intense story like this.