Nevaeh Levitz is struggling to find herself and where she fits in. Her mother is black and Baptist; her father is white and Jewish. She has always managed to fly under the radar, but she is forced to reckon with her sense of identity when her parents abruptly divorce and she and her mother move to Harlem to live with family.
She is white passing/white presenting and struggles to know when she’s “allowed” to embrace certain sides of her culture. Judaism was never a feature of her household, but her father now wants her to have a belated bat mitzvah as a way to exert control amid the separation; meanwhile, her cousins welcome her into their Baptist youth group but caution her about how she wears her hair and speaking on things her privilege has prevented her from experiencing in full. There is a distinction to be made between embracing and appropriating. She is finally finding her voice but still learning when it’s necessary to use it and when using it means giving others a platform.
It is clear Natasha Diaz pulled from her own experiences as a biracial, interfaith teen to build this story. She captures the frustration of not knowing where you fit in, the selfish nature of teens, and the insecurity that pushes young adults to sometimes make poor decisions. It’s a strong debut, but I’m detracting points because there are a lot of characters and most of them don’t see much of a story arc. Nevaeh’s father, in particular has no revelatory moment. That may be realistic, but it also would have been realistic for others to attempt to call him out on his problematic behavior. Overall, and when you remember intended audience is YA, this story successfully opens up the dialogue of the nuanced biracial experience and white privilege.
Side note, I finished this book last week, just before Yom Kippur, which happens to be the subject of Nevaeh’s torah portion. Atonement and the need to acknowledge past errors in order to progress is also a central theme of this novel and something all the characters must work through, especially Nevaeh who, while likable overall, is flawed.
What is hard about apologizing is not admitting that you were wrong, but confronting what led you to make that wrong decision in the first place.Nevaeh Levitz
4.5 out of 5 stars.