Color Me In (Book Review)

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I wanted to like this book. In all honesty, I expected to love this book. As my first book purchase of the year I had some seriously high hopes. *cue High Hopes by Panic! at the Disco*

Now that the dance break is over, let’s get back to this book. Let’s be civil with this. I’m not saying that just because I didn’t like it, no one else will either. No, what I’m saying is that I had issues of my own with this novel and some of those issues stem from personal experience, some of them are just my own likes and dislikes, and other things are straight up problematic. It’s a mixed bag with this one.

Disclaimer: All these thoughts are my own unless stated otherwise. Just because I didn’t like this story doesn’t mean it can’t have a positive influence on someone else, especially someone falling under this demographic.

The Good

Let’s start off on a high note. This story is all about representation! It’s the first book I’ve read that showed the difficulties specific to being biracial. It really does capture that essence of internal turmoil.

The Not So Good

Part 1: Narrative Structure/Writing Style

*This section does NOT contain spoilers.

Something I’ve come to notice about myself is that I personally prefer third person, character driven narratives. Not to say that I haven’t rated first person narratives five stars before, but I tend to enjoy third person narratives a lot more. I gravitate toward them more often when browsing.

This story is a first person narrative and that’s important to note because that entails a limited point of view. Something that this story does often is speak as if it is a third person narrative. Nevaeh often attributes emotions and reactions to the other characters as if she knows exactly how they’re feeling. That’s not how it works. You can’t be first person but still be omnipresent. The inconsistency was the first strike I had against this story and it’s something that appears quite often.

Another issue I had with the writing style were the bouts of exposition that often cut through the narrative. Exposition is necessary, for sure, but there were just too many times where it felt awkward and ill placed for my taste. It would distract me from what was going on in the story and I got really frustrated with that early on.

This exposition would also cut through dialogue a lot and that annoyed me to high heavens. I love reading dialogue and seeing how the characters interact with one another but I couldn’t enjoy the dialogue because it was always being cut off by either exposition or the narrator’s thoughts. It was incredibly distracting.

Part 2: Supporting Characters *Spoilers Ahead*

I was reading through the reviews on GoodReads to try and figure out if I was the only person in the world that seemed to have issues with this book. I did find one brave soul that hit several of these points on the nail and I’ll link to that review here.

One thing she notes is how stereotypical a lot of the minor characters are. Something that really grinds my gears is the way Miss Clarisse has been painted over as the “Jezebel” character. For a story that’s meant to be uplifting and open minded, it sure does rely heavily on overused and problematic tropes.

Mental health is a passion of mine. It’s why I became a Psychology major. My campus job this past year has been all about mental health advocacy. This story’s portrayal of mental illness was problematic, to say the least. There were several points where I found myself seething.

Nevaeh’s mother was obviously depressed, and I’m talking severely depressed, following this separation. The divorce seemed to really be a trigger for her past trauma and everything she’d been bottling up until that point. Instead of using this as an opportunity to shed light on mental illness and how important family support is, it’s used as a simple plot point for Nevaeh to throw jabs at her father. She tells him that her mother hasn’t showered in days as if that isn’t an indication of the SEVERITY OF HER DEPRESSSION. I understand that Nevaeh is sixteen and selfish, but even that’s just a low blow all around.

When they did introduce therapy it was like some miracle elixir. Her mother was suddenly cured and back to normal after a few sessions with the first therapist she’d met with. No relapse, just this sudden cure to her crippling depression.

I get that this story is trying to bridge the gap between these two cultures but in doing so, I felt like there was a major disservice in the portrayal of black culture. My experiences aren’t everyone else’s but some of these scenes felt like their main reference point was a Tyler Perry film.

Not to say that the other character’s weren’t overlooked either. I didn’t like how much of a stereotypical mean girl Abby was. There wasn’t much depth or nuance to her character outside of the racist parents.

Part 3: Nevaeh *Rolls Eyes*

I couldn’t stand Nevaeh. Her character just screams “not like other girls” and I was not ready to endure how literal this story would take that statement. I’ve come to realize that if I don’t like the main character, chances are I won’t like the story.

Something that bothered else that bothered me was her relationship with her best friend. The way Stevie stopped talking to her was strange for me. Completely ignoring your best friend for weeks after they’ve apologized is a toxic trait and I don’t think she should have been so willing to take Stevie back as a friend after that.

All in All

This was a debut novel. I didn’t like it but at the end of the day that doesn’t matter. What matters is that this is opening the door for more voices to be heard and hopefully heard well. This blog is about diverse stories and bringing that representation to the light. It’s okay to not like every story, especially if it wasn’t meant to serve you in the first place. That’s why we need more stories from marginalized communities, so we can find those voices we resonate with.

Just because I didn’t enjoy Color Me In doesn’t mean I’d but unwilling to read from Natasha Diaz again. I’m still trying to find something I enjoy from Ibi Zoboi and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

Okay, I’m going to get off my soap box now.

Have you read Color Me In?

Is there a book that you resonate with?

What are your thoughts on representation?

Let me know in the comments below, let’s chat!

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