Piecing Me Together Summary

Renée Watson

Piecing Me Together

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Piecing Me Together Summary

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Piecing Me Together (2017), a young adult contemporary novel by Renée Watson, tells the story of a young African American girl trying to escape her impoverished neighborhood to secure the life she wants. Praised for its timely, powerful subject matter, it was nominated for the 2018 Newbery Medal and awarded the 2018 Coretta Scott King Award. Watson, a public school teacher with a certificate in drama therapy, writes for both children and teenagers. She specializes in helping young people use arts and creative expression to cope with trauma and pain.

Jade lives in a poor neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. Her mother convinces her that she will never have a better life unless she finds a way out because there are no opportunities for her at home. Jade is a very talented artist and gifted student, and her mother doesn’t want her to waste these abilities.

Agreeing with her mother, Jade applies for a scholarship to St. Francis, a mostly-white private high school. Attending this school means access to the best college prep and well-connected teachers. Jade thinks her application is a long shot, but when she is accepted, she’s convinced this is the start of a new life for her.

At St. Francis, Jade is allocated a guidance counselor, Mrs. Parker. Mrs. Parker is there to ensure that Jade fits in and gets the most from her scholarship. She tells Jade in passing about a special opportunity granted to only the brightest students—studying abroad for a year. As a junior, Jade is eligible, and she’s determined to be chosen. She can’t pass up this opportunity. Although the studying and traveling to school every day keeps her away from her friends in the neighborhood, she is convinced it’ll be worth it in the end.

When Mrs. Parker summons Jade to her office one day, Jade is sure she knows why. She is sure Mrs. Parker is inviting her to study abroad. However, Jade is disappointed. Instead of offering Jade a place on the study abroad program, Mrs. Parker tells her that she has been selected to join a mentoring program called Woman-to-Woman.

Though Jade is angry that she wasn’t selected to study abroad, she is determined to make the most of any opportunity. She asks Mrs. Parker what the Woman-to-Woman program involves, and what she can do to prepare. This program is for African American girls who are allocated black female mentors. The point is to help and inspire the girls. However, Jade doesn’t feel inspired by this opportunity. She thinks she is being discriminated against and that the school doesn’t really want her. However, her mother convinces her to give the program a chance—she will lose her scholarship otherwise. Reluctantly, Jade agrees to meet with her mentor.

Jade’s mentor, Maxine, rich and successful, is keen to give back to the community. Jade, however, is worried that Maxine looks down on her because she is poor. She assumes Maxine won’t be able to relate to her. At first, this is true—Maxine grew up rich, and she doesn’t know what it’s like to struggle financially—but Maxine learns what additional challenges a poor black girl faces as the novel progresses.

Jade discovers the truth behind why she is on this program; poor and black, she is deemed an “at risk” girl. As a black woman, Maxine is determined to prove the system wrong, doing all she can to support Jade. She introduces Jade into her social circle, and they attend fancy performances, but she’s missing the point of the program. She is exposing Jade to opportunities that make her feel bad about herself because she can’t afford to live the same life.

Jade eventually confronts Maxine about what she needs, and Maxine listens. She communicates Jade’s needs to the program directors, and they plan to overhaul the entire program to better cater to their target audience. They help Jade organize art shows and poetry readings, and they encourage her to become her own advocate for change. With Maxine’s help, Jade believes in herself and her ability to succeed. Maxine finally understands that this is the point of mentoring.

Jade’s final challenge involves her friend—a white girl called Sam. Sam is poor and lives near Jade, and they see each other all the time. However, Sam doesn’t understand what it’s like being black and poor, and she doesn’t appreciate the constant scrutiny Jade is under. Jade and Sam fight about issues from police brutality to prejudice; Jade is frustrated by how little Sam understands her.

By the end of the book, both Maxine and Sam are willing to look outside of their own experiences to understand how other people live. Piecing Me Together is less about the plot and more about the social issues raised, and how even well-intentioned efforts by activists can be entirely unsuccessful if they’re misguided.