For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington

For Black Girls Like Me

Mariama J. Lockington, Author

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Fiction, Jul. 30, 2019

Suitable for Ages:  9-11

Themes: Idenity, African-American, Interracial adoptions, Family problems, Mental illness, Moving,

Opening: “I am a girl but most days I feel like a question mark. People throw their looks at me. Then back at my mama sister and papa. Who are all as white as oleander. Then they look back at me. Black as a midnight orchard.”

Bookjacket Synopsis:

Makeda June Kirkland is eleven-years old, adopted, and black. Her parents and big sister are white, and even though she loves her family very much Keda often feels left out. When Keda’s family moves from Maryland to New Mexico, she leaves behind her best friend, Lena — the only other adopted black girl she knows — for a new life. In New Mexico, everything is different. At home, Keda’s sister is too cool to hang out with her anymore, and at school, she can’t seem to find one true friend.

Through it all, Keda can’t help but wonder: What would it feel like to grow up with a family that looks like me? Keda has a constant dialogue in her head with the birth mother she never knew.

In this deeply felt coming-of-age story, about family, sisterhood, music, race, and identity, Mariama J. Lockington draws on some of the motional truths from her own experiences of growing up with an adoptive white family. For Black Girls Like Me is for anyone who has ever asked themselves: How do you figure out where you are going if you don’t know where you came from?

Why I like this book:

Mariama J. Lockington has penned an intimate and emotional debut novel that will touch reader’s souls. It is about a girl being adopted into an interracial family. The author uses many of her own personal experiences to share Keda’s inner turmoil of feeling both “loved and lonely” in her white family. This rarely-told story is long overdue and will resonate with many transracial adoptees.

There is beauty in Lockington’s book.  She is a very lyrical writer, so there are many poetic turns of phrases. Her writing tone is rich and and is enhanced with Keda’s musical lyrics, poems, letters, and a journal that carries her heart back and forth through the postal mail to Lena, her bestie. The journal is a lifeline and bond for both. It’s a creative inclusion in the narrative. The plot is multilayered and courageous.

The characters are authentic and complicated. Keda is deeply sensitive, observant and curious about her birth mother. At school she dislikes the never ending questions about her hair, her adoption, and her biological mother. Most of all, she doesn’t like the accusations of being “too proper” and “talking so white.” Keda’s life may feel complex, but she is resilient.  She is a talented song writer and her music is her freedom from  lonliness and hurt. She finds a soulmate in singer Billie Holiday’s blues music.

Making friends is easy for Eve, Keda’s older white sister. Eve is popular and distant, leaving Keda without a friend. Their family is musical. Mama is a prodigy – a talented solo violinist who left the stage when she started a family. Papa is a talented celloist, who heads out on a worldwide concert tour after their move to New Mexico. However Mama’s mental health issues emerge and spiral out of control. The sisters are thrown together to grapple with big decisions.

For Black Girls Like Me raises timely questions about race, identity, and mental health issues that will foster excellent classroom discussions. It is an outstanding work of fiction and belongs in every school library. Keda’s life may feel messy but it is full of courage, hope and promise.

Favorite Quotes:

“So you’re like Obama? An Oreo!” / Kinda. Wait. What’s an Oreo? / “You know when you’re all black on the outside but really white on the inside?” (Page 37)

Questions I have for black girls (with hair) like me: Who decides what kind of hair is beautiful? Do you ever just want to tell your mom: “White lady stop! You don’t know what you’re doing!” Do you remember the first black woman to ever washed your hair? What did it feel like? Did it hurt? Or did it feel like home? (Page 134)

“I am a girl becoming a woman. People throw their puzzled looks at me and I know they’re wondering: Who does she look like? But I am learning to say: Me. I look like me. I am a girl becoming a woman.” (Page 317)

Mariama J. Lockington is an adoptee, writer, and nonprofit educator. She has been telling stories and making her own books since the second grade, when she wore short-alls and flower leggings every day to school. Her work has appeared in a number of magazines and journals, including Buzzfeed News Reader, and she is the author of the poetry chapbook The Lucky Daughter. Mariama holds a Masters in Education from Lesley University and Masters in Fine Arts in Poetry from San Francisco State University. She lives in Lexington, KY with her partner and dapple haired dachshund, Henry.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

32 thoughts on “For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington

  1. Wonderful pick! Even those adoptees whose racial or ethnic identities match their adopted families, like me, may feel different from the adopted family. I’ve seen few books that acknowledge that.

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    • That’s why I was so excited about reviewing this one. It was personal, since I adopted two children, a son from India who struggled with the looks he received from people. He had straight black hair and dark skin and even black people would ask questions. He’s grown now, but he went through some tough times. But, all adoptees can relate to this story in some manner — I know our daughter would have — she searched for her birth family and found two half sisters.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Rosie, this book is something you would enjoy — first you’d enjoy Lockington’s poetic writing style and second, you would love the fact it’s loosely based on the author’s own experiences. We need more stories like this.

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  2. Wow! This sounds like an awesome book. I particularly liked this quote you shared: “I am a girl becoming a woman. People throw their puzzled looks at me and I know they’re wondering: Who does she look like? But I am learning to say: Me. I look like me. I am a girl becoming a woman.” (Page 317) This one is going on my TBR list right this minute. Thanks for sharing this title with us for MMGM, Patricia!

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  3. This looks interesting. Reminds me of The Other of my Heart, except that one wasn’t about an adopted child. The search for identity is such an evergreen topic. I like that you mention the story is full of hope.

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    • Thank you for sharing The Other of my Heart, will have to check it out. Yes it is an evergreen topic — both 0ur kids are adopted, one locally and the other from India. I saw similarities between Keda’s and my son’s experiences. This book does have a broader appeal.

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  4. What a fantastic tale with many compelling themes. If it wasn’t snowing like crazy outside right now I’d head off to the bookstore to find a copy. A book sure to foster discussions as the story unfolds. Perfect choice for Black History month and MMGM.

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    • You will really enjoy Keda’s journey. It is multi-layered. This book has appeal for black adoptees into interracial homes, but it also will appeal to adopted children in general who are curious about their roots.

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  5. Thanks so much for sharing this review. I just shared this with therapist friends, and we feel it could be helpful for many children.

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  6. We need more books like this since so many children have trouble fitting in. This story sounds like something I would have read to my class when I was still teaching.

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    • Thank you for commenting! It is an excellent classroom discussion book! I could not put it down. I loved Sharon Draper’s novel “Blended,” but this book really goes into deep emotional issues associated with feeling alone in an all-white family.

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  7. Wow! This sounds like a really powerful story, Patricia. Many children think at some stage that they don’t belong and must have been adopted; but for children whose adoptive situation is so obvious, the difficulties must be compounded. Whether adopted or not, I think many children will be able to relate to Makeda’s situation and empathise.

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    • Thank you for your thoughts! I agree, I believe Keda’s story will create empathy among readers. I could only think how difficult this was for our Indian son being adopted into an all-white family, many years ago. He dealt with a lot, but is a well-adjusted adult.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This sounds like a great story. We adopted our daughter from China. It’s hard to give your child their culture when it’s not your own. I’ll have to check out this book. Thanks for sharing it.

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    • Makeda’s story will resonate with you, because of your daughter. We adopted our son from India, and he was very dark with straight hair that caused many stares years ago. He’s an adult now, but I thought a lot about him as I read Lockington’s book. And our adopted daughter tracked down her birth family two years ago. That’s an interesting story. I love Keda’s comment about “not knowing where you are going, when you don’t know where you’ve come from.”

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  9. This sounds like a book that will make everyone who reads it think. I like that. It sounds powerful. I like that the author included some of her own thoughts and feelings into the main character. Thanks for sharing. Great review!

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