The Latte Rebellion: Sarah Jamila Stevenson
January 21, 2011
Book: The Latte Rebellion
Author: Sarah Jamila Stevenson (blog)
Age Range: 12 and up
Background: Sarah Jamila Stevenson and I are friends. We met through our blogs (she blogs with Tanita Davis at Finding Wonderland), and have worked together on the Cybils, and spent time together at the Kidlitosphere Conferences. She's been to my house. I was excited for her when I heard that her book was going to be published. I know her well enough that I could occasionally hear her voice coming through (as distinct from the protagonist's voice) as I was reading her book. Thus I can't say that I'm objective in assessing The Latte Rebellion. But I did very much enjoy it!
Review: The Latte Rebellion is the story of high school senior Asha and her quests to a) make enough money to go on a fun trip after graduation; b) promote awareness and acceptance of "latte-colored" individuals like herself; c) hang onto her drifting best friend Carey; d) satisfy her achievement-focused parents; and e) feel like she's making a difference in the world. Unfortunately, these various goals may not be mutually achievable. But Asha is a pleasure to spend time with while she figures things out.
The story begins when Asha and Carey decide to sell t-shirts promoting "The Latte Rebellion", the idea that mixed-race students have a right to be respected for themselves, rather than being forced into tidy ethnic categories. The whole thing is a bit of a lark - the real goal is to raise enough money to go on a fun post-graduation trip (and the more hidden goal for Asha is just to do something fun with Carey, who has been awfully focused on her studies of late). However, to Asha and Carey's surprise, their Latte Rebellion manifesto strikes a real chord with people. Soon, events overtake them, and they find themselves astonishingly well-known, and facing disciplinary action. Occasional excerpts flash forward to Asha's hearing with the school board, her potential expulsion racheting up the story's suspense.
This is an excellent book for teen readers. I would expect it to inspire a flurry of Cafe Press t-shirt projects. I kind of wanted to start promoting some sort of cause myself now. And I can imagine my teenage self becoming quite inspired. The actual cause of the Latte Rebellion, the focus on pride in mixed-ethnicity, is sure to resonate with teens, too. And sure to resonate in a non-message-y sort of way, because the author keeps the focus squarely on Asha.
Asha's voice is just right. She sounds like what she is, a bright, highly educated teenager. I think that it must be difficult, as an adult, to write like you would have written as a teen (expressive, descriptive, enthusiastic, etc.), and Sarah pulls this off flawlessly. Her are a couple of examples:
"Sure, it would be nice if we managed to raise a little awareness of mixed-ethnicity people, but basically, we were selling t-shirts. A community health clinic made the Latte Rebellion seem like small potatoes. Small, selfish potatoes." (Page 46)
"With both grandmothers fighting for control of the kitchen prior to our annual mid-December dual-family blowout, there were clashing aromas competing for dominance, flour was everywhere, and there was a constant tug-of-war over the spice rack." (Page 118)
I also like Asha's unconventional descriptions and vocabulary:
"A handful of other seniors started to drift over from around the patio like melodrama-sniffing dogs, eager for a scene." (Page 3)
"I bolted to my feet, the controversy-inspiring towel falling to the ground, innocuous and stripey." (Page 3)
I just love "stripey". There's also a description of a boy that Asha likes which my teen self would have found irresistible, but I'll make you read the book for that one.
I think that many teens will also relate to the pressure that Asha and Carey's parents put on them over getting into a good college. I kind of want to re-read this myself when Baby Bookworm is a junior in high school, as sort of a primer on what not to do to your kid. Making this exactly the sort of book that can open up valuable discussions between parents and teens. [Side note: I gave a copy of this book for Christmas to a 16-year-old friend who won't even talk about colleges if her mother is in the room.]
The Latte Rebellion would pair especially well with Monsoon Summer, by Mitali Perkins (another coming of age story that looks at questions of ethnic identify and social conscience, and has a memorable, 3-dimensional heroine). Highly recommended for teen and adult readers, especially those who have ever been forced to check "other" on a box identifying their ethnicity. I hope that The Latte Rebellion catches on, and inspires many readers.
Publication Date: January 8, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).