Thursday, October 24, 2019

Some Places More Than Others

Some Places More Than Others by Renee Watson. Grades 4-6. Bloomsbury, September 2019. 208 pages. Reviewed from digital galley provided by publisher. 

Amara is turning twelve and starting to feel like she wants to know more about her family heritage and her cultural heritage. The perfect solution? Visit New York City for the first time and meet her grandfather and her cousins! But Amara's mom doesn't think she's old enough yet to handle herself in the city. Her father travels there for business but isn't keen to take her along. And then Amara learns that her father hasn't spoken to her grandfather in 12 years - they stopped speaking right around the time Amara was born.

A project for school gives Amara the perfect "in" - she has to fill a suitcase with memorabilia and stories from her family history - and Amara is overjoyed when her parents give in and tell her she's going to New York as her birthday present. Before she leaves, her mom tasks her with something very important: try to get dad to talk to her grandfather and mend fences. Amara agress, but she has no idea how she's going to do such a thing. Especially once she gets to the city and her dad's working all the time, her cousins don't want to be bothered with her, and she's still trying to piece together what it was that made them stop speaking to each other.

This is a coming-of-age story with a lot of heart and a good read for everyone who's ever felt that longing to know about family and to know about your own history and heritage.

It's a love letter to Harlem and to the African American history preserved in its streets. Learning about that history becomes more important to Amara than she thought it would be as she sees landmarks on the streets and as her father and grandfather point out important historical places, both personal to their family and in general African American history. Growing up in Oregon without many other African American families around, Amara feels removed from her cultural heritage. Of course, her journey to learn about her family history and to help her father mend fences with her grandfather is the centerpoint of her trip. She's learned that her father hasn't spoken to his father in 12 years, since Amara was born and her grandmother died. Amara's mother tasks her with helping her dad to find some time to mend fences with his dad.


  • One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia (Amistad, 2010). African American girls travel across the country to meet family and learn about their heritage in these character-driven novels.
  • Like Vanessa by Tami Charles (Charlesbridge, 2018). African American girls follow their dreams in these character-driven novels. Set in 1983, Vanessa competes in a beauty pageant, while Amara travels to New York City.
  • As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum, 2016). Although As Brave as You features city-dwellers traveling to the rural South and Some Places More Than Others features a West Coast suburbanite traveling to New York City, both novels find African American tweens meeting family members for the first time and learning about their heritage in these quiet, character-driven stories.
  • Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices by Walter Dean Myers (Holiday House, 2004). One of my favorite aspects of the story is Amara learning about her cultural heritage through exploring her family's Harlem neighborhood. For more of that, pick up this collection of poems that bring historic residents of Harlem to life.