The Skin I'm In
Maleeka used to be a good student, but now she's failing most of her classes and she hangs around with Char, who is repeating 7th grade for the third time. Maleeka's home life isn't great either. Her father passed away a few years ago, and although her mom is finally working again, and they have food on the table, her mom finds solace in sewing -- and she's not very good at it. Maleeka's homemade clothes do not help her status at school. Nor does that fact that one of her classmates, John John is always talking, and singing!, about how she's so black, no one can see her. Maleeka isn't really friends with Char. She struck a deal with her: Maleeka would do Char's homework for her if Char and her friends would stop bullying her and if Char would lend her some real clothe. Maleeka seems destined to run with a bad crowd and come to a bad end, when a new teacher arrives a school. Miss Saunders walks with confidence, wears designer clothes, and has a large discoloration on her face. She works hard to engage her students, but she also gives them far more work than they're used to. Maleeka is torn. An assignment Miss Saunders has given her -- and Miss Saunders's confidence in her abilities -- has empowered her. But, in middle school, it's hard to cross someone like Char, and Char hates Miss Saunders. In the end, Maleeka both finds herself and commits a crime that goes against everything she believes in because she's pressured into it. This story deals intimately with race, and discrimination within ethnic groups, as well as the bullying and peer pressure that is so common in middle schools. More generally it deals with confidence and how all people have to find the confidence to embrace their differences and be who they are.