Blog Tour: Color Me In by Natasha Diaz Review
Hi everyone! I am super excited and thankful to have worked with Sazón Book Tours to bring you this post! You can find Color Me In in a bookstore near you!
Title: Color Me In
Author: Natasha Diaz
Genre: YA Contemporary, Fiction
Topics: Mixed families,
Triggers: Depictions of sexual assault, police harassment, nudity, and cyber bullying.
Publishing Year: 2019
Format Read: E-Book (Galley)
My Rating: 4/5
One of my ‘literary catnip’ stories is the coming of age novel set in New York City. Call me a basic, but there is something about being young and trying to figure out who you are in the city that I never get tired of reading about. That said, it is not a new premise, the YA space in particular has plenty to offer in this area. While in this aspect Color Me In is not necessarily unique, there are several topics that this book tackles that are rare in YA lit, and in particular the way in which they are addressed is what made Color Me In stand out for me in a crowded field. These strengths along with Diaz’s sharp voice that does humor as easily as it does heartbreak, poetry as well as prose, make Color Me In it a powerful and welcomed debut that belongs on your shelf next to Angie Thomas and Elizabeth Acevedo.
Synopsis: 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?
As a reader, one of my joys has been getting to read a recent surge of new and veteran authors writing about race, ethnicity, identity, and all of its nuances and complexities particularly in YA literature. Diaz dives head first into this messy world and tackling many of the questions that arise surrounding identity when growing up, particularly in a bi-racial, bi-cultural and bi-religious context. Nevaeh’s mother comes from a black baptist family from Harlem and her father is Jewish and from Connecticut. I’ve read a couple of YA and middle grade books that deal with mixed racial and ethnic identities but rarely also religious identities, which was really interesting to read and learn about. One of the things I absolutely loved, specifically about how Diaz approaches religious identity in this book was that she never presents these two identities as conflicting or opposing. She doesn’t approach this theologically or ask which one is “correct” or “better” or “true” refusing the narrative of one or the other. Rather, she focuses on Nevaeh’s personal and emotional journey to discover (and in many ways create) an identity which includes all of her pieces and histories in the face of a social narrative, and sometimes even family and friends who insist that this is not possible. This isn’t to say everything is neat and peachy. She tackles many gray and uncomfortable areas like what it means to pass as white when you are mixed, what happens when the world doesn’t feel comfortable when your identity doesn’t fit perfectly into one census box or another, and when and how does someone have a “claim” or a “right” to a particular identity or culture. Through all this she guides us through Nevaeh at times a confusing and non-linear soul-searching journey with compassion and nuance.
The second aspect that I loved about this book is that in addition to tackling “normal teen issues” like having a crush, social dynamics at school, and clashing with parents and friends, Color Me In is also unapologetic in its engagement with contemporary social issues. There can at times be a tendency to distance the political from the personal in YA or middle grade lit. Diaz recognizes that the political is the personal and that teenagers are not insulated or unaffected by the media and what is happening around them. Color Me In touches upon many social and political topics like racism, gentrification, Black Lives Matter, police brutality against young black men, substance abuse, infidelity, divorce, and cyber bullying just list a few, yet it never feels forced or pedantic. It’s neither sensationalist for drama’s sake nor does it downplay the gravity of these issues. Diaz trusts her readers to grapple with these topics as they affect the characters’ lives and this is something that I truly appreciated seeing on the page.
All of this to say that I believe Diaz has struck a wonderful balance with the many difficult and multifaceted topics she addresses in Color Me In. This is partially, I believe, because she draws deeply from her own experiences and reflections. She includes a letter at the back of the novel (which I highly recommend reading and greatly resonated with me) in which she shares how growing up in a mixed family, passing as white, and being bi-cultural helped shaped Nevaeh’s story. Just as important however, is Diaz’s ability as a writer. Diaz gives Nevaeh’s voice a unique and powerful personality and is able to portray her inner conflicts beautifully on the page. She manages to balance so many things in Nevaeh; teenage snark, laugh out loud moments, fear, love, family tension and inner doubt all comes across on the page. But Diaz doesn’t stop there; she also includes several pieces of poetry and diary entries which give us a glimpse into the past. It is a lot to pack in one novel but with Diaz’s deft hand it feels natural and she makes it look easy. Color Me In is as impressive feat indeed and one that leaves me quite excited to see where Diaz will take us next.
Color Me In is a novel that isn’t afraid to dive deep and with a full heart. It trusts the reader to handle the messy and real emotional trials that Nevaeh’s journey takes and it doesn’t condescend nor does it try to simplify the complex. Whether it is in tackling contemporary social issues like Black Lives Matter or deeply personal ones like dealing with parental divorce. Color Me In doesn’t offer easy answers but does show us a way to love and embrace the complicated. I love that in many ways (and mild spoiler warning!) it leaves things a little ‘unfinished’ at the end of the book. Not all scars are healed and not everyone is back at where they started but in many ways that is the point; just because it’s the last page doesn’t mean the journey is over and luckily for us readers Diaz is just getting started.
Read if you like:
Quintessentially NYC stories
Coming of age and grappling with your identity
YA that tackles contemporary issues of social justice
Disclaimer: I was given a free e-galley from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of this review. All opinions are my own.