MMGM: Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams
ABOUT THE BOOK
This deeply sensitive and powerful debut novel tells the story of a thirteen-year-old who is filled with self-loathing and must overcome internalized racism and a verbally abusive family to finally learn to love herself.
There are ninety-six things Genesis hates about herself. She knows the exact number because she keeps a list. Like #95: Because her skin is so dark, people call her charcoal and eggplant—even her own family. And #61: Because her family is always being put out of their house, belongings laid out on the sidewalk for the world to see. When your dad is a gambling addict and loses the rent money every month, eviction is a regular occurrence.
What’s not so regular is that this time they all don’t have a place to crash, so Genesis and her mom have to stay with her grandma. It’s not that Genesis doesn’t like her grandma, but she and Mom always fight—Grandma haranguing Mom to leave Dad, that she should have gone back to school, that if she’d married a lighter skinned man none of this would be happening, and on and on and on. But things aren’t all bad. Genesis actually likes her new school; she’s made a couple friends, her choir teacher says she has real talent, and she even encourages Genesis to join the talent show.
But how can Genesis believe anything her teacher says when her dad tells her the exact opposite? How can she stand up in front of all those people with her dark, dark skin knowing even her own family thinks lesser of her because of it? Why, why, why won’t the lemon or yogurt or fancy creams lighten her skin like they’re supposed to? And when Genesis reaches #100 on the list of things she hates about herself, will she continue on, or can she find the strength to begin again?
There are some books that touch your heart from the very first page. For me, this was true of this book. Genesis is a sympathetic character from the get-go because she arrives home in the first chapter to find her family's belongings sitting on the front lawn of the apartment building they've been living in. What makes it worse is that she's not alone, she brought some of the popular girls home with her, hoping that finally she's made it into the 'in' crowd. But her hopes have crumbled again as she and her mom stay at her grandma's house while their father, trying to compensate for his not paying the rent, looks for a new place for them to stay.
Genesis's father finds them a new place to stay, and it's really nice. But Genesis is afraid to believe that it will last any longer than any of the other places they've stayed. In addition to worrying about her family's situation, Genesis must confront her own self-hatred, created by her father's criticism's and her former classmates name-calling and teasing. She even keeps a list created for her that lists reasons they hated her, and she's added her own reasons to it.
Her new school doesn't seem to offer much at first, but when she makes a couple of friends, and meets a choir teacher who believes in her, she starts to realize that the negativity she's heard her whole life just may not be true. But between the secrets she keeps (including her efforts to change her own skin color) and the shocking history lesson she gets from her grandma, Genesis struggles to find hope or reason to believe in herself.
I found this a powerful story about self-esteem and how damaging verbal abuse can be, intentional or not. Despite the heartache that Genesis deals with though, there is still plenty of hope in the book brought into her life through her new friends, her new teacher, and her loving mother. I found myself cheering for Genesis as she fought her way through her pain to find a reason to begin again, letting go of the pain of the past to find faith in her future. I also learned a lot about a situation and culture very different than the one I grew up in. I love books like this one because they encourage me to look outside myself to develop empathy for other people's struggles.