Let’s talk Young Dumb, and Naive by Alicia Henderson. She was kind enough to send me this book in exchange for an honest review, so thank you for the opportunity! Please know that this does not affect my opinion of the work.
This is the year that 14-year-old Azerica Christian takes her life back. No longer will she be dragged through the mud by her mother. It ends now. It’s not her fault that her mom had three children by herself. Azerica shouldn’t have to suffer and put her life on hold to be responsible for her siblings. She didn’t birth them. She didn’t even want them.
And while she’s on it, Azerica is sick of her long-time, lame best friend too. Sure, they grew up together. But Azerica is ready to leave the past in the past. She’s not here for the after school Bible studies this year.
Nope. Instead, she’s focusing on herself. The only thing that matters now, is what Azerica wants. And what she wants is to live the popular life with her cheerleader and football player friends. So year, they may be older. But they have experience. And Azerica is ready for it all.
“I keep trying to tell you, you can’t always depend on me Candace. You are a grown woman now. Stop making excuses. Stop living in the past. You can’t change what happened.”
To begin, this book focuses on our main character Azerica who has just begun high school. She’s made it onto the varsity cheer leading team, and is destined to have a new start and create a new version of herself. To do so, she enlists the help of her new cheer leading best friend Trish to give her a “grown up” makeover. The book follows the triumphs and challenges that Azerica faces as she struggles for independence from her mom and learns more about her new place in the high school social pool. This includes moments of peer pressure to be someone you’re not and seem more “seasoned” or “experienced” than you actually are. If nothing else, this book shows the social pressure of high school and how that feels to a young teen.
There is so much more to say about this book. It deals with very complex topics such as racial stereotypes, incarcerated parents, disconnected parents, and—most prevalent—financial struggle. It is also a faith-based book that has characters who turn to God during their tribulations. If I had to give a soundbite praise for this book, I’d say that ultimately this book is great because it is an accurate representation of a black family’s struggle.It does not shy away from the the fact that a black, single mother of three has money problems and acknowledges the embarrassment and desperation that comes from this situation. It also shows the length a parent is willing to go when their back is against the wall, and I think it’s so important to de-stigmatize financial struggle.
Henderson also does a great job at character building, as each person in the book has a memorable personality and even a unique voice. Speaking of voice, did I mention that this book unapologetically represents black vernacular? As a young black woman myself, it makes me happy to see this kind of representation in YA books and is helping me overcome the ingrained attitude that anyone who “talks like that” is “ghetto.” I can go on and on about this topic because I am so passionate about it. So yeah, huge plus for me.
The criticism I have of this book comes in the form of its physical structure. The layout of the pages feels unregulated and there are no dedicated page headers or titles for new chapters. There is simply “chapter _” written in a small font at the top left, which I was confused by.
Another thing I found with this book is that there is inconsistency with the italicizing throughout this book. At most times, the italics are used to indicate a character’s internal thoughts which are expected. But there were a few times that I was reading and actual dialogue was italicized and I found myself momentarily confused. I also found trouble navigating the unwarned point of view changes throughout the chapters.
Although these errors are not prominent enough to completely derail your reading experience, you may find yourself rereading some lines and wondering where one chapter ends and the next begins.
Thank you for reading, and thank you again to Alicia Henderson for the review copy that made this review possible!