This book knocked me off my feet. When I was least expecting it, it punched me in the heart, and I was crying through a whole bat mitzvah.
Nevaeh Levitz is struggling to find where she fits in her family when her dad is white and Jewish and her mom and the people she knows best are Black and go to church. She’s never felt like she quite belongs in either world, but as the story goes on and she grows more sure of herself, it becomes clear she can carve out a spot that’s uniquely her own. She doesn’t have to be one thing or the other.
Color Me In is not just an incredible story, it’ll also teach you about privilege, the challenges of growing up, and how to use your voice to help those closest to you. Let’s get to the review!
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Who is Nevaeh Levitz?
Growing up in an affluent suburb of New York City, sixteen-year-old Nevaeh Levitz never thought much about her biracial roots. When her Black mom and Jewish dad split up, she relocates to her mom’s family home in Harlem and is forced to confront her identity for the first time.
Nevaeh wants to get to know her extended family, but one of her cousins can’t stand that Nevaeh, who inadvertently passes as white, is too privileged, pampered, and selfish to relate to the injustices they face on a daily basis as African Americans. In the midst of attempting to blend their families, Nevaeh’s dad decides that she should have a belated bat mitzvah instead of a sweet sixteen, which guarantees social humiliation at her posh private school. Even with the push and pull of her two cultures, Nevaeh does what she’s always done when life gets complicated: she stays silent.
It’s only when Nevaeh stumbles upon a secret from her mom’s past, finds herself falling in love, and sees firsthand the prejudice her family faces that she begins to realize she has a voice. And she has choices. Will she continue to let circumstances dictate her path? Or will she find power in herself and decide once and for all who and where she is meant to be?
Nevaeh is doing her best to figure out her life after a pretty big upheaval. She recently moved in with her mom’s sister’s family after her parents split up and with her mother deeply upset and depressed, Nevaeh has to deal with everything that comes with her new life all by herself.
During this time, Nevaeh makes her way up to the attic and finds her mother’s old journal. As she reads through it, she begins to find out more about her mom’s past as well as one of the reasons why her parent’s marriage may have failed.
I LOVE stories with journal entries from the past, especially when they’re from the main character’s parent. It’s a great way to learn with a character. They’re learning new facts about someone they’re close to just as the reader is.
But that is only a small portion of the book. Nevaeh also has to deal with her father. He is dating his secretary (she is awwwwful) and has decided that he wants Nevaeh to have a bat mitvah. Nevaeh is horrified but ultimately agrees, if only to get her cheating father off her back.
That brings in Rabbi Sarah who is meant to teach Nevaeh Hebrew and everything she needs to know to ensure her bat mitvah goes smoothly. Little does she know, Rabbi Sarah will teach her much more than what’s in the Torah. Besides Nevaeh, Rabbi Sarah might be my favorite character. It’s clear she’s been through some shit and Nevaeh (and I) appreciates that. She’s not easy to get close to, but for Nevaeh, she tries. She is so damn supportive…I want a Rabbi Sarah.
There is also Nevaeh’s life at school with her best friend, Stevie (who is a badass dancer), and her time with her cousins at home and at church. While Nevaeh’s cousins accept her as their family, her cousin, Jordan repeatedly reminds her that she doesn’t live the same life or experience it in the same way as they do.
Nevaeh can pass for white, so her experiences in society (especially around cops) is much different than it is for all the Black people in her family. It’s through Jordan and a horrifying experience at school (I think I stopped breathing during this scene), that Nevaeh realizes just how much privilege she has and how she can use it to help the people she loves most.
And speaking of people she loves…Nevaeh falls for a Dominican boy named Jesus. OMG their relationship is so freaking cute. There are no words. Compared to what we read about Nevaeh’s mother’s past experiences with men, Nevaeh’s relationship with Jesus is the exact opposite. It’s supportive and loving and gets even better once Nevaeh begins to come into her own.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about Nevaeh’s poetry. She’s a brilliant writer and her poems are sprinkled throughout the story at integral moments. Her poetry is another way the reader gets to see what Nevaeh’s feeling and how she changes throughout the story. The topics and emotions in her poems change as she comes to better understand herself and her world.
Color Me In blew me away in so many ways. Nevaeh and I have a few things in common. We are both half Jewish and have less-than-ideal fathers. The sections when she discovers her dad isn’t the person she thinks he is slapped me in the face. I have been in that moment and Nevaeh’s anger is all too real.
And don’t even get me started with the bat mitzvah scene. I cried through the whole thing. It’s about growing up and making amends and being who you are, not necessarily what people tell you to be. It killed me and brought me back to life.
Another moment that really stuck with me is when Nevaeh finally realizes her privilege and how much power comes with being white-passing.
I’m white and being white comes with a lot of privilege. Before reading this story, I thought I knew how to use some of that privilege to help make the world a less shitty place. But based on the way Jordan explains it to Nevaeh, I didn’t “get it” as much as I thought I did. There’s one scene where Jordan lets out all her feelings about living in a world that’s set against her and it was very eye-opening.
I hope a ton of white readers check out this book and learn how to use their privilege for good. Or at the very least, understand a little better what Black people go through every day.
Color Me In by Natasha Diaz is thought-provoking, fun, sad, and so well-written I could cry (and did). I’m blown away by Natasha Diaz and I can’t wait to read her next books. I am giving Color Me In 5 out of 5 stars. Please get this book. You won’t be disappointed. (the crying is worth it.)
Color Me In comes out August 20, 2019.
Thank you to NetGalley and Delacorte Press for the free eARC in exchange for my honest review.