title: So Done
author: Paula Chase
date: Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins; 2018
main characters: Jamila Phillips and Tai Johnson
Review based upon an advanced copy.
Mila spent the summer with her aunt to avoid Tai’s father.
While Tai couldn’t wait for Mila to return to the Cove, she could feel that something was different, something was shifting but she wasn’t sure about her feelings. When Mila returned and asked her to stop calling her “Bean”, Tai knew something was up. She dug in and continued to be Tai. She’d try out for the new dance school because everyone else was, she’d keep crushin’ on Rollie and she’d always be the one on top in every conversation.
Mila wanted to attend the new dance school as much as she wanted to leave Pirate’s Cove. There could be a difficult decision ahead for her. Mila was changing. She was so done!
I think what really struck me about this book is considering for whom it is written. In knowing that So Done is written by a black author and seeing two black young women on the cover, I don’t think you’d be wrong to assume the book is written for a black audience, but I do question whether it is written specifically for Black girls.
Chase seems to be writing for those who share her cultural experience, never stopping to define slang or overly describe situations, hair or clothing styles. She assumes readers know, are able to figure things out or that they’ll be interested enough to find out. She doesn’t incorporate the representative white girl to provide a place of comfort for white readers. When I interviewed Paula, I wanted to ask her how she managed to avoid writing for the white gaze, but I avoided that question. I theorize that Whiteness is often added to IPOC books to soothe white editors and I didn’t want to put Paula on the spot. The thing is, by being authentic to her culture, she’s able to create a story with integrity that pulls in those from outside. ‘Otherness’ fades away as the author is able to write what she knows best.
As for writing for black girls… Chase explained in her interview with me how well she knows these characters; she’s written them and their community for years. She knows their generations, relatives, neighbors and friends. She can write the characters with ease. In So Done, Rollie/Roland, Chris and Simp are well developed secondary characters who hold a defined space in the story.
Simp. Short for ‘Simple’. Years behind his peers in school, he seems to have some sort of intellectual disability that impacts his academic performance but, that does not limit his ability to be a friend. Chase empowers him with the same agility as her other characters. In this tight knit neighborhood, you’re known for your flaws and accepted for your strengths. Simp fits right in.
Mo had three older brothers. All but the youngest was in jail. She knew how to give as good as she got and rarely backed down. And as mild-mannered as Simp was most of the time, he could handle himself. And knowing that he might be (was?) a dough boy [drug dealer] made Mila look at him differently now. Before, she wouldn’t have worried about him and Mo dissing each other. But now? Who knew what might set Simp off if everybody kept teasing him about not being able to do TAG?
“I’m not pressed one bit,” Tai said, breaking the tension. It was as close to siding with Simp as she would ever get. He looked at her with open adoration. “But if I can make it and get out of art or gym a few times a week, shoot, might as well.”
There were a few halfhearted “Yeahs” from the group. But the conversation had cooled the high they’d all been on after the first day.
Roland put his fist out to Chris. They touched knuckles then swiped their hands quickly. “I need rehearse my solo. I check y’all later.
Simp rolled out with them.” (pp. 205-6/ARC)
The fathers in the story, Bryant Johnson and Jamal Phillips couldn’t be more different as they represent the polar opposites of fatherhood. These characters are critical to one of the topics of the books: the safety of black girls. In keeping black men safe black men are either perpetrators or protectors. Even Tai’s older brother Jamal Jr (JJ) understood this when he provided her with warnings and information to keep her safe. These males knew this neighborhood (this world!) is not safe for black girls and they could choose to protect them or do them harm. There really is no in between. So Done has strong messages for black men.
So Done is a relationship based story; relationships between friends, siblings, parents and children and neighbors. It’s about a group of young people trying to learn how to create their own space in the world. I strongly recommend this book!
The story is told in third person multiple narrative style.