author: Ibi Zoboi
date: Balzer + Bray; 2018
main character: Zuri Benitez
The stunning endpages of Pride set the story by presenting Zuri and Darius facing each other. Each is looking straight ahead, but neither one is looking at the other. You could say they both appear quite prideful.
Zuri Benitez and her Haitian-Dominican family live in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. Zuri has been noticing subtle changes in her Bushwick as stores become more upscale and as store owners are more often white than black. But, Zuri plans for her world to never change. She’s a high school junior who plans to go to college and come back home. She doesn’t want her home to change.
Zoboi dares to rock Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice on its head while claiming space for people of color among the most classic of classics. In retelling this story, she maintains the tale of romance, but she empowers a working-class girl with a very limited worldview and whose strong sense of pride in her home provides her with a sense of #blackgirlmagic; it raises her above. Pride is all about the worldview of this young black woman, Zuri.
The center of Zuri’s home is the living room/bedroom that she shares with her four sisters. In their apartment building, “(a) narrow door at the end of the hallway opens up to a ladder that leads to the roof. This is our happy place, way above it all. It’s also our secret place, because Papi forbids us to go up there for obvious reasons : we might fall to our deaths . . . If Madrina’s basement is where the tamoras, los espiritus, and old ancestral memories live, then the roof is where Janae and I share our secrets and plan to travel all over the world, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic being the first stop.” (p. 23) Here, Zaboi centers Zuri’s world in her home.
I’ve read several reviewers who don’t think Zuri is particularly bright. I’m not sure how they come to that conclusion. No doubt, Zuri is street smart. She knows how to navigate the streets of her neighborhood. But, Zuri is a first-generation college student and she attends a public school that doesn’t seem to be preparing her well for college. Her sister, Janae, seems to be doing the work of a guidance counselor in helping to prepare Zuri to get into college. Zuri is limited by the world in which she lives.
While in her worldview, there is no place better than being at home in Bushwick, she doesn’t know anything outside that experience. “There aren’t many places in Brooklyn my family and I have ventured into. A big shopping trip is taking the B26 bus down Haley Street to the Fulton Mall. And when we do take a cab, it’s to the Brownsville BJs in Gateway Mall or to Costco in Sunset Park. Going to Manhattan is a treat. I can count on one hand how many times we’ve been to Times Square.” (p 85) Her limited ability to interact with those from other social classes or to prepare herself for college speaks to her lack of privilege, not her intelligence.
Then, the Darcy’s move in. Zuri reflects, “And, that’s when I know for sure that those boys moving onto this block has changed everything.” (p.206)
The gentrification of Bushwick had been perpetrated by whites but the Darcys, an affluent African American family, disrupt this notion of entrepreneurial home ownership as being a white thing when they move into the neighborhood from Manhattan, thus presenting to the reader as well as to Zuri a class of African Americans that is different. Zuri instinctually (but not cognitively) senses the vast differences in their worlds and she afraid of the change she senses that he’s bringing. Her pride navigates her through her changing world.
Honestly, I found it painful to follow her character development until I realized that Zuri was being a typical 17 year-old! Zoboi managed to capture the angst of a teen that has become rare in YA. Zuri didn’t read like a mini adult.
Each time Zuri steps outside of her neighborhood, her worldview begins to expand. Not to change, but to expand. She is able to identify class differences and even states, “Darius, if my family had your kind of money and this kind of house, my whole life would’ve been different.”( p. 258) She realizes the privileges that the Darcy’s have. But, she also recognizes her own. “I know my place. I know where I come from. I know where I belong.” (p. 236)
I recommend Pride for school and public libraries. It would be a natural pairing with Pride and Prejudice in literature classes that would allow for discussions around race, gender, class and privilege.
Ibi Zoboi is also the author of American Street, a National Book Award Finalist.