Book Review: Genesis Begins Again

Book Reviewed by Shafika Burke

Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams is a powerful, poignant, and ultimately empowering middle-grade novel that highlights issues sure to interest diverse young readers. What does “good hair” look like? What does “good skin” look like, and do they define beauty? Thirteen-year-old “new girl” in school, Genesis struggles to answer these questions even as she tries to find her place, accept the beauty of her dark complexion, and navigate her complicated family life.

In the fifth grade, classmates gave Genesis a list titled: 100 Reasons Why We Hate Genesis. On the list was: “She is too black.” “Her family is always being put out of their house.” And, “Her dad has a drinking problem.” The list becomes her bible and adds to her lack of self-esteem and self-acceptance. Genesis tries to lighten her ebony skin color using baking soda and lemons. She even steals her mother’s credit card to order bleaching cream. Sadly, it’s not just her schoolmates who think Genesis is too black; she discovers that colorism has existed in her family for generations. Her dad often gets drunk and emotionally and verbally abuses Genesis and her mom. He faced colorism as a child, and as an adult he continues to perpetuate its stigma.

One day, Genesis’ grandmother explains that her father used a brown paper bag as a test to decide if his potential sons-in-law should be a part of the family. Grandma tells Genesis that “life would be less complicated” if she were born light-skinned, like her White mother, and not dark-complected like her Black father. Genesis’ quest to lighten her skin stops when her friend Troy tells her that regardless of her complexion, “You’re still gonna be Black. You’ll still be called names. And you still have to be twice as good.” His words cause Genesis to question her motives and to finally start to accept her inherent beauty and to love herself, exactly the way she is.

Young people often live with substance or emotional abuse at home. When they go to school they struggle with self-identify, self-love, and self-acceptance because of peer pressure to fit in to the status quo. Too many of them face these problems in silence. Genesis Begins Again reminds them that they are not alone.

The novel may be challenging for some readers because at times the story is told in daydreams or flashbacks. As Genesis escapes her harsh reality into other realms, readers may find the story hard to follow. But if they stick with it they’ll be well-rewarded. The book is infused with age-appropriate humor and the dialogue perfectly melds standard English and Black vernacular. Snippets of African-American history are also woven into the narrative. Short lessons on The Underground Railroad, Malcolm X, The Civil Rights Movement, W.E.B. Du Bois, The NAACP, The Black Panthers, and the 20th century brown paper bag test, make it as informative as it is entertaining.

Read Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books’s description of Genesis Begins Again.
Black Power Line

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