Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Review: Blended by Sharon M. Draper

by Sharon M. Draper
Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Middle Grade Contemporary
288 pages

Eleven-year-old Isabella’s parents are divorced, so she has to switch lives every week: One week she’s Isabella with her dad, his girlfriend Anastasia, and her son Darren living in a fancy house where they are one of the only black families in the neighborhood. The next week she’s Izzy with her mom and her boyfriend John-Mark in a small, not-so-fancy house that she loves.

Because of this, Isabella has always felt pulled between two worlds. And now that her parents are divorced, it seems their fights are even worse, and they’re always about HER. Isabella feels even more stuck in the middle, split and divided between them than ever. And she’s is beginning to realize that being split between Mom and Dad is more than switching houses, switching nicknames, switching backpacks: it’s also about switching identities. Her dad is black, her mom is white, and strangers are always commenting: “You’re so exotic!” “You look so unusual.” “But what are you really?” She knows what they’re really saying: “You don’t look like your parents.” “You’re different.” “What race are you really?” And when her parents, who both get engaged at the same time, get in their biggest fight ever, Isabella doesn’t just feel divided, she feels ripped in two. What does it mean to be half white or half black? To belong to half mom and half dad? And if you’re only seen as half of this and half of that, how can you ever feel whole?

It seems like nothing can bring Isabella’s family together again—until the worst happens. Isabella and Darren are stopped by the police. A cell phone is mistaken for a gun. And shots are fired.


This is the first book I've read from Sharon Draper, and it won't be my last. The author dives into current and important themes for today's society and approaches them from the view of a sixth grader.

Isabella feels divided when her parents get divorced, a feeling which only gets worse when her father...after years of living miles away...suddenly moves back to town. Seven days with her father, and seven days with her mother. As if the two lives weren't enough, the racial differences between her mother and father make her feel even more like an awkward blend.

I was excited to get my hands on this book and was curious how the author would handle these tough themes. Isabella comes across as an emotionally healthy and solid sixth grader. She's got a good head on her shoulders and an even warmer heart. Her decisions and actions fit well to the age group and were understandable. Her friends and family members give her wonderful support and keep the read in a cozy area even when the topics aren't as easy.

This isn't a fast-paced read. Especially the first chapters are spent getting to know Isabella and her two different worlds. There were moments where it began to drag for a page or two. It's not a tale for more reluctant readers.

The themes are handled age appropriate and with care. It's easy to feel for Isabella and understand the difficulties she faces. But at times, the number of themes and the depth they required, made them come across a little thin. For example, Isabella not only faces the divide between her parents due to divorce but also one caused by racial differences. To add to it, her parents are not on great terms (not a 'friends' relationship). Plus, there's a big financial difference between the two. Add the building racial tensions and Isabella's increasing awareness of the divide between the races in various circumstances, and the issues run deeper than an ocean. It's a lot to pack into one book and some moments loose the depth the could have had because of it. Still, the author does manage to keep it all in one hat and pulls through with recognizable message.

This isn't a read for every middle grader, but it holds important messages and will hit home in the hands of the right reader.

And here she is...
Sharon M. Draper is a New York Times bestselling author and recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award honoring her significant and lasting contribution to writing for teens. She has received the Coretta Scott King Award for both Copper Sun and Forged by Fire, and was most recently awarded the Charlotte Huck Award for Stella by Starlight. Her Out of My Mind has won multiple awards and was a New York Times bestseller for over three years. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she taught high school English for twenty-five years and was named National Teacher of the Year. Visit her at SharonDraper.com

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