I would believe that if it was just here, in Portland. But Grandma says the same type of thing happened in Atlanta, and Dad was just talking about his friend in New York who said it’s happened in Brooklyn and Harlem. That can’t be coincidence. There is something-something that has allowed this to be normal, that poor communities get remade and their people are forced to move. Have you ever seen it the other way around? Ever?
In This Side of Home, Renée Watson follows two twin sisters as they navigate their Portland neighborhood being gentrified. While Maya and her twin sister Nikki have historically held the same perspectives and life plans, they don’t feel the same way about this.
Furthermore, not only is their neighborhood changing, their historically Black high school is too. Their new principal is keen on promoting “diversity,” a coded way of elevating whiteness in order to change the “reputation” of the school and district. Maya, her teachers, and her friends band together to push back against this erasure.
[I]t’s not just Spelman [College]; it’s Atlanta. There are all kinds of blacks there. I want to live in a place where there’s a variety of black people, doing all kinds of things. I’ve never had that. You get to see and experience all kinds of white people all the time.
Blacks were always the victims, always having to fight for something. But Dad told me about scientists and inventors, and filled in the gaps that history books leave out. I know how I felt always being portrayed as the victim. I’m sure being seen as the perpetrator feels just as awful.
However, this novel is so more than just a story about gentrification. Watson has written a beautiful coming-of-age tale set amongst a shifting cultural, economic, and political landscape.
“Fear exists everywhere,” he tells me. “There are always man-made borders -seen and unseen- to keep certain folk in or out.”
Her characters are complex, her writing easy to follow, and the wisdom doesn’t feels preachy.
Buy This Side of Home here