Maya and Nicki are named after two of their mother’s favorite poets. And their father is a community activist, always helping somewhere and someone, many of them Maya and Nicki’s friends. Maya has always loved her neighborhood, but over the last four or so years, there have been changes. Many that Nicki seems to embrace, but ones that have Maya concerned. After all, how does one feel when the white people who once fled an area, now decide it is okay to start putting up speciality shops and landlords who decide they don’t want to rent anymore, but would rather sell a home that Maya’s best friend Essence has lived in her whole life – just across the street?
And how is Maya supposed to feel when Nicki befriends the new white family that moves into Essences’ old home? Doesn’t Nicki feel the conflict that Maya does? After all, they have planned to go to Spelman College for forever, where generations of smart, strong, influential black woman have gone, but now Maya wonders if the plan is still in place. Especially since everyone thinks Maya and Devin belong together, when Maya begins to realize they don’t really have anything in common, other than they are both driven and both black. Maya is really conflicted when she starts to have feelings for Tony, the high school senior who moved across the street, into Essences’ old house. Tony, who is white.
This Side of Home by Renee Watson does a great job of looking at the reverse of white flight and delves into gentrification, although what Maya is going through is much deeper than cosmetics on buildings. What makes a community, what gives people a history and are you able to move forward, while still retaining the same spirit? Maya struggles are real and very relevant.
Recommended for grades 8 and up.