Title: The Latte Rebellion
Author: Sarah Jamila Stevenson
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Themes: Identity, Racism, Social Justice, Friendship, Transition from High School
Age Range: 9th Grade and Above
Summary: (from Goodreads)
When high school senior Asha Jamison gets called a "towel head" at a pool party, the racist insult gives Asha and her best friend Carey a great money-making idea for a post-graduation trip. They'll sell T-shirts promoting the Latte Rebellion, a club that raises awareness of mixed-race students.
Seemingly overnight, their "cause" goes viral and the T-shirts become a nationwide fad. As new chapters spring up from coast to coast, Asha realizes that her simple marketing plan has taken on a life of its own-and it's starting to ruin hers. Asha's once-stellar grades begin to slip, threatening her Ivy League dreams, and her friendship with Carey is hanging by a thread. And when the peaceful underground movement turns militant, Asha's school launches a disciplinary hearing. Facing expulsion, Asha must decide how much she's willing to risk for something she truly believes in.
The Latte Rebellion highlights an increasingly important theme of modern American life-the effects of racism on those of mixed racial background. As our country becomes increasingly diverse, and old social boundaries about who dates and marries who break down, more and more children are coming into our schools who identify as bi-racial, multi-racial, and mixed-race. The fact that we have our first mixed race president, but the narrative is that he is our first black president, highlights the point that Ms. Stevenson was trying to make by writing the book. Our society puts people into boxes based on parts of their identity that may or may not resemble the way that they identify themselves. These labels affect almost every aspect of a person's life, something that Asha discovers. From a strictly thematic point of view, this novel has important points to make.
Unfortunately, I felt that the story was too slow...there was an awful lot of internal dialogue that I didn't think was strictly necessary, and it felt like it took forever to get to the "event" that caused all of the trouble. In between chapters, there are excerpts from the disciplinary hearing held towards the end of the book, and all of them are sort of annoyingly vague about what it is that Asha is actually being accused of. Over all I felt that the action was not well-paced, and the book probably could have been shorter by about 50 pages.
The other things that I did not care for was the portrayal of Asha's parents in the book, but I will admit that has more to do with my own personal liberal bias than any issues I have with the author's craft. I was appalled at the lack of support that the parents showed their fairly amazing child in her efforts to make the world a more accepting place for people of mixed racial and ethnic backgrounds. Their daughter was a straight A student, had never been in trouble before, was in lots of extra-curriculars and clubs, and had a social conscience. I would be thrilled to have a child like Asha, and I certainly would have backed her up if her school tried to label her a terrorist for starting a peaceful social justice club. Instead, Asha's parents tell her how disappointed they are in her, and how selfish and childish she is for jeopardizing her future by participating in something so controversial. I was annoyed by pretty much every adult in the book, and with the attitude of some of the other youth as well. Really, starting a social justice club should not be something that frightens people, and I thought that the reaction by the school and the parents was completely out of line with what was actually happening. But then I think about things like the Tennessee law that no one is allowed to use the word gay in the classroom, and I realize that maybe my own liberal views and the fact that I live in a pretty liberal metro area make me blind to the attitudes that exist in other places.