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Reviewed by Jamie Michele for Readers' Favorite
Melanin Brown Discovers America, written by Candice Davis and illustrated by Benedicta Buatsie, is a middle-grade book that centers around thirteen-year-old student Melanin Brown. Melanin is a seventh-grader at Shirley Chisholm Preparatory Middle School where she has a comfortable group of friends and is proud to be living in Washington D.C. During the Pledge of Alliegance, Melanin and others in her class notice a new boy doesn't stand up for the Pledge. This does not go down well as the new student, Michael, soon become the target of bullies. He remains on Melanin's mind even as she is diverted by the many activities she participates in, but one student named Carl is particularly aggressive with Michael, and there is some reluctance to intervene since Carl's family is a deep-pocketed sponsor of the school. Melanin then decides to seek some advice and mull over Michael's predicament about what she should and should not do, taking appropriate action in her own way.
Melanin Brown Discovers America is a contemporary, highly engaging book that reads easily. Candice Davis provides Melanin with a strong voice that has the authenticity of a normal teenage girl, and we are able to get to know her through a first-person narrative that is witty and fun. I loved getting a mini-tour of her school as she highlights what it has to offer and what those who walked the halls before her achieved. There are some really appropriate nods to the change happening that is long overdue, such as the renaming of the school to Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress. There are also undercurrents of things that still require change, such as donations being used to influence disciplinary action and the abuse Carl is subjected to, which indicates the need to transfer his humiliation onto another. I love how Melanin's approach to Michael is a learning moment for her also, reinforcing that she is still a child despite her maturity. The illustrations by Benedicta Buatsie are among some of the best I've seen. They bring the whole story to life in a way that words alone cannot do. Overall, this is a wonderful book and as a mother to a teenager of color, I look forward to stacking the shelf with more Melanin adventures.