95 pages 3 hours read

Renée Watson

Piecing Me Together

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2017

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson is a young adult novel published in 2017. In 2018, it won the Coretta Scott King Award from the American Library Award Association and was named a Newbery Honor Book by the Association for Library Service to Children. The novel comprises 76 chapters, each of which is given a bilingual title in English and Spanish. For example, Chapter 1 is titled “español - Spanish language,” and Chapter 2 is titled “tener éxito - to succeed.” Throughout the book, certain chapters are highly stylized, one-page fragments that fall outside the general trajectory of the narrative—these chapters mirror protagonist Jade Butler’s preferred medium of self-expression: collaging.

Piecing Me Together explores themes of intersectionality, self- and community-based advocacy, and the unique experience of coming of age as a black girl. It also celebrates the black experience and self-expression through art. The book exposes how certain well-intentioned programs like Woman to Woman, meant to empower the disadvantaged, actually disempower and demean them; as Woman to Woman undergoes a transformation over the course of the book, Piecing Me Together offers a vision of what a true, authentic mentorship organization might look like.

Plot Summary

Set in modern-day Oregon, Piecing Me Together tells the story of Jade Butler, an African American high school student growing up in North Portland, an impoverished area of the city of Portland. Jade is a scholarship student at the elite private high school St. Francis, where the well-meaning school administrators—including her guidance counselor, Mrs. Parker—give her many opportunities. Jade is studying Spanish, and she dreams of one day traveling the world. St. Francis has a study abroad program, and Jade hopes to be nominated for the program so that she can travel to Costa Rica. Jade expresses herself through art and her preferred medium is collaging. As a collage artist, she takes everyday objects—pamphlets, photos, newspaper clippings—and transforms them into things of beauty.

During Jade’s junior year at St. Francis, Mrs. Parker encourages her to join a mentorship program for African American girls called Woman to Woman, which pairs each student with a St. Francis alumna. Jade’s mentor is Maxine, a black woman from an upper-middle-class background. Jade and Maxine form an uneasy relationship, but Jade is critical of some of Maxine’s behaviors: Maxine is distracted by her relationship with a deadbeat ex-boyfriend; she was late to their first-ever Woman to Woman meeting; but most of all, she treats Jade as an object of pity who will help give meaning to her life.

Meanwhile, Jade forms a friendship with Sam, a white girl who rides the same bus to school. Sam is from Northeast Portland, a poor, primarily white section of the city. While Jade and Sam share an understanding based on socioeconomic class and their relationship to money, there is a huge divide in their understanding of race. Jade’s life is peppered with all sorts of racist incidents: She is seen as “unruly” by a school lunch lady; she is ejected from a store in the mall for just browsing; she is looked over by her Spanish professor for St. Francis’s study abroad program.  

The turning point in the novel comes when Jade begins voicing her needs: She lets Maxine know that she feels ignored; she tells the founder of Woman to Woman that the program would be more effective if it gave the mentees more practical advice and stopped treating them as objects of charity; and she tells Sam it is hurtful that Sam does not believe Jade faces racism on a daily basis.

The novel concludes with Jade taking control of her own future. With the support of Maxine and the newly-transformed Woman to Woman, Jade combines her passion for collaging with her desire for social justice. Shaken by the recent violence against a young black student named Natasha Ramsey, Jade and her best friend, Lee Lee, raise awareness (and money to pay for hospital bills) for Natasha by putting on a community art show. Maxine offers to hold the event at her sister’s art gallery, and the event is a fantastic success. By the end of the novel, Woman to Woman has transformed at its core: The organization no longer treats its mentees as problems needing to be “fixed,” but listens to them and approaches their needs with respect. 

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