Z’s birthday is this Sunday, so I’ve been working on a secret project. This is a dollhouse my grandmother made for me when I was a kid. After a few years in our (now rat-free!) garage, it was filthy and needed a facelift.



When she’s older I’ll tell her how I slaved over this. For now I’ll just let her enjoy it.

Sellout by Ebony Joy Wilkins

The set-up: After a horrifying onstage experience, NaTasha, the only African American in her suburban school, decides to spend a few weeks with her grandmother in Harlem, where she’ll volunteer at a crisis center for girls her age.

Main character’s goals: I don’t think NaTasha’s goal was entirely clear, at least not in her mind. At the beginning, she wants to escape her humilation. Throughout the middle I couldn’t find much of a goal except evading humiliation and bullying from girls at the crisis center. It’s at the end that NaTasha finally grows a backbone and sense of self-determination when her goal becomes clear (and now I can’t tell you what it is without giving you a big spoiler).

My reaction: The bullying was cringe-inducing. I could identify with NaTasha’s desire to be left alone, so every time she’s the center of attention and the object of hurtful words (or hands), I really felt for her. Then I was later thrilled with how she grew as a person and as a character.

Also, and I’m not saying this just because it’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day – I am white, and have not considered myself a minority (in most situations). Seeing NaTasha in her suburban town, trying to fit in with her peers, was eye-opening and took me to that place where you walk through the world in someone else’s shoes. No, this isn’t the first book I’ve read where the main character is not white. Far from it. It’s just refreshing sometimes, to get another perspective.

Of interest to writers: There are some big moments in the plot that Wilkins handles exceptionally well. The inciting incident is one of these, with NaTasha’s onstage embarrassment. Other big moments include a volleyball match, and a date at the end (can’t say more here, you know, spoilers. Sorry). If you want some solid examples of big turning points, study these.

Bottom Line: There’s a lot to be learned from this book, not just about writing, but about life.

Any Other Name

She calls me “Mom Mom.” It’s kind of cute, I guess, but it’s what I called my grandmother. So it makes me feel like I should be calling jeans “dungarees,” complaining about the dry heat of California, expounding on the benefits of sleeping without underpants, and sending post cards from far-off places.

Mom Mom would absolutely love Z. As would my grandfather (plain old “Grandpa”) and Husband’s grandmother (“Mama Nona”), and so many other friends and family who have passed away. It gets me thinking, and remembering, and above all, hoping we can make these people come alive in our memories, so that she can learn about them too. I’ve never felt I had much of a heritage, because I’m a mixture of so many ethnicities no one ever bothered to keep track. Husband’s half-Italian, so we get a lot of through-the-generations-traditions from his side.

I think my “heritage” will have to come from the people I love, and I think I’ll need to remember them, find photographs of them, and tell Z all about them. I’ll need help from my family in remembering, but that’s what family is for, right?

And of course, we invent our own traditions and family culture as we go along, momming, writing, playing with our kids. It’s all (forgive the soft, poetastic description) part of the richness of life.

As far as my name, I won’t ask Z to call me anything different. But I’ve re-spelled my name to “Mamam” in my head. It has a European feel to it (“Maman” is French), so I can get on board with that. Especially if it erases those images of commando sleeping habits from my brain.