Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Review: The Latte Rebellion by Sarah Jamila Stevenson

Title: The Latte Rebellion
Author: Sarah Jamila Stevenson
Publisher: Flux
Release date: January 8th 2011
Pages: 327
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: BEA 2013
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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.
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Even though I hadn't heard much about this book, I had high hopes for The Latte Rebellion. YA books don't often address social justice issues in such an explicit way, so I thought I would appreciate that The Latte Rebellion does. And while I really liked the idea, it just doesn't work as well as I'd hoped. I had some issues with how the movement is handled, and the actual story develops didn't really hold my interest, so I was pretty disappointed by this one.

I was expecting a main character who is passionate about social justice issues, but Asha did not turn out to be a character I liked. To be honest, she doesn't even seem to care that much. She really just starts this whole thing as a way to make money, which didn't really sit right with me. (And also just doesn't seem like a practical choice.) Even once Asha gets more into the idea of this becoming a real movement, she doesn't seem all that passionate about it; for example, she goes to a couple of social justice activism meetings that sound really cool, but she doesn't seem to care all that much, other than about them selling more T-shirts and about the activism that he guys she likes is interested in. For a novel that I hoped would send a strong message, Asha just isn't a feisty enough main character, in my opinion. She's also really good at slut-shaming and making assumptions about cheerleaders and the members of what she calls the Bimbocracy. 

It also bothered me how the issue of racism against mixed-race individuals is handled. For some reason, the novel focuses mainly on the racism Asha and her friends experience at the hands of other minorities. The main "bad guy," Roger, is an Asian American fellow student who doesn't understand why Asha doesn't just identify as Asian if that is part of her ethnicity. Of course this is a problem, but it bothered me how the novel basically completely ignores the racism all minorities experience from white people. This is especially evident in Asha's criticism of what is basically Affirmative Action - she talks about how minorities are given "special treatment" in college admissions when they can check the "Hispanic" or "black" box and how she doesn't benefit from this because she has to select "Other." I think it's a valid criticism that these categories don't have space for mixed-race individuals, but she completely dismisses the idea that a minority status should be considered in admissions. As someone who believes that Affirmative Action is definitely still necessary, that bothered me - and while Asha doesn't necessarily have to agree with me on this, I don't think this should have been dismissed quite as easily and been discussed in a more meaningful way. In general, it bothered me how the novel pits people of mixed race against minorities of one ethnicity when, really, they are both oppressed by the white power structure, which is basically ignored in The Latte Rebellion.

Asides from the way the issues are handled, I also had some problems with the actual story. I honestly don't know why, but I just couldn't get myself to care all that much about what happened. It might be because I didn't really connect with the characters, or because I thought parts of the story were just unnecessarily melodramatic - for example how snippets from the school board hearing are included in between chapters, when that hearing doesn't even end up being that important. Either way, The Latte Rebellion just wasn't a novel that really sucked me in the way I want books to.

In the end, I was really confused as to what we were supposed to take from this novel because there's no real message or explanation of what happens to the Rebellion. Without a real message at the end, the story didn't really seem to go anywhere. And since I had some issues with the message and the main plot didn't really capture my interest, The Latte Rebellion just didn't work for me. 

2 comments:

  1. I think you make an interesting point. You'd think YA would be a good vessel for discussing social justice issues, but you rarely see it! Too bad this one wasn't crafted well, it sounds like it could have been really interesting.

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