Monday, March 10, 2014

Imani All Mine, by Connie Rose Porter

Title:  Imani All Mine
Author: Connie Rose Porter
Publisher:  Mariner Books
Year:  2000
Pages:  224
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Themes:  Teenage Pregnancy, Perseverance, Overcoming Obstacles, Overcoming Loss
Age Range:  9th Grade and Up

Summary: from Goodreads
Imani All Mine tells the story of Tasha, a fourteen-year-old unwed mother of a baby girl. In her ghettoized world where poverty, racism, and danger are daily struggles, Tasha uses her savvy and humor to uncover the good hidden around her. The name she gives her daughter, Imani, is a sign of her determination and fundamental trust despite the odds against her: Imani means faith. Surrounding Tasha and Imani is a cast of memorable characters: Peanut, the boy Tasha likes, Eboni, her best friend, Miss Odetta, the neighborhood gossip, and Tasha's mother, Earlene, who's dating a new boyfriend.

Earlier today I was in a discussion with a friend about whether certain books with more mature themes should be present in the middle school library in her children's school district.  My feeling is that mature, sophisticated readers should not be kept away from  hard stories or controversial topics if they have demonstrated the ability to think critically about what they read, and that instead those types of books should be used as discussion pieces between children and parents.

During the discussion, it was not lost on me that the discussion we were having really only pertained to those children who have not been subjected to real-life violence, poverty, neglect, or sexual activity in their every day lives.  It is privilege in its various forms that put my friend and I in the position to have a conversation about whether tweens should be exposed to sex or violence in media-for too many of our children and youth the cultural context of their lives brings them into contact with these topics whether they are ready for them or not.  Imani All Mine is a good example of the type of story that I mean.

Porter's main character and narrator, Tasha, is at once naive and more experienced in the world than we'd want any fourteen year old to be.  She and her mother live in poverty, trying to make ends meet with a combination of government assistance and part time work.  Tasha's baby, Imani, is the result of a rape she experienced outside of a roller rink at the age of 13.  Her mother, a hard woman with little patience for raising her daughter, assumes that she got herself in trouble as a result of promiscuity, and basically leaves Tasha with only the most basic support in raising the resulting child.  Luckily, Tasha goes to a school that has both parenting classes and a daycare, and she tries her best to be a good mother to Imani.  But despite her hopes and good intentions, tragedy strikes, and Imani is killed by a stray bullet in a drive by shooting. Sinking ever deeper into grief, Tasha turns for comfort to her boyfriend, and soon finds herself pregnant again.

The subject matter is handled gently, if not delicately, and there is no sense of sensationalism in this story. Nor is it a morality tale, where the reader is invited to revile Tasha and her choices.  But nothing can make this story anything but what it is-a tragic, heartbreaking story of not one, but two childhoods lost.  I think that for some young girls, this story mirror the kinds of things they see their friends, sisters, cousins, and neighbors going through.  Should we deny them the opportunity to read about the issues they deal with because others perceive it to be too mature for their young age?  Seems like that old cliche about closing the barn door after the horse gets out works here.  That said, I think that ninth grade seems like the youngest I would recommend read this book, and then with adults to discuss it with.

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