This book has been on my TBR list for a while now, and I was finally able to get a chance to read it! This was one of those books that you read in a little over and hour, and you think about for the rest of the day.
It all starts when six kids have to meet for a weekly chat–by themselves, with no adults to listen in. There, in the room they soon dub the ARTT Room (short for “A Room to Talk”), they discover it’s safe to talk about what’s bothering them–everything from Esteban’s father’s deportation and Haley’s father’s incarceration to Amari’s fears of racial profiling and Ashton’s adjustment to his changing family fortunes. When the six are together, they can express the feelings and fears they have to hide from the rest of the world. And together, they can grow braver and more ready for the rest of their lives.
I’m not really sure what I was expecting when I selected this book to add to my TBR list, but I can tell you, that whatever it was, this book was more. What I thought would be a book about some kids and talks that they had, turned into a lesson about race and a life lesson that I think I will carry with me for the rest of my life. In the book, Jacqueline Woodson writes “If the worst thing in the world happened, would I help protect someone else? Would I let myself be a harbor for someone who needs it? Then she said, ‘I want each of you to say to each other: I will harbor you.’ I will harbor you.” This made me think about how many times we go through our days, only worried about ourselves. It made me think of those times that we are in a hard place, and all we do is think about how to rescue ourselves, but not how to rescue others in the same position as ourselves. I mean no offense, but sometimes, and maybe more often than not, we are a selfish people focused only on ourselves. While this book was indeed about some kids and the talks they had, it was much more. It was about kids who had to learn the hard lessons of racism and the unfairness of it all at a young age. It was about kids who had to harbor each other during this year of their lives. It was about kids who had to protect each other from bullies and from the curveballs that life throws at you. I very much enjoyed this book and the life lessons it taught me in a different way than I had heard them in the past. I will leave you with this quote:
“Before you used to hear the word immigration and it sounded like everything you ever believed in. It sounded like feliz cumpleanos and merry Christmas and welcome home. But now you hear it and you get scared because it sounds like a word that makes you want to disappear. It sounds like someone getting stolen away from you.”
About the Author
I wrote on everything and everywhere. I remember my uncle catching me writing my name in graffiti on the side of a building. (It was not pretty for me when my mother found out.) I wrote on paper bags and my shoes and denim binders. I chalked stories across sidewalks and penciled tiny tales in notebook margins. I loved and still love watching words flower into sentences and sentences blossom into stories.
I also told a lot of stories as a child. Not “Once upon a time” stories but basically, outright lies. I loved lying and getting away with it! There was something about telling the lie-story and seeing your friends’ eyes grow wide with wonder. Of course I got in trouble for lying but I didn’t stop until fifth grade.
That year, I wrote a story and my teacher said “This is really good.” Before that I had written a poem about Martin Luther King that was, I guess, so good no one believed I wrote it. After lots of brouhaha, it was believed finally that I had indeed penned the poem which went on to win me a Scrabble game and local acclaim. So by the time the story rolled around and the words “This is really good” came out of the otherwise down-turned lips of my fifth grade teacher, I was well on my way to understanding that a lie on the page was a whole different animal — one that won you prizes and got surly teachers to smile. A lie on the page meant lots of independent time to create your stories and the freedom to sit hunched over the pages of your notebook without people thinking you were strange.
Lots and lots of books later, I am still surprised when I walk into a bookstore and see my name on a book or when the phone rings and someone on the other end is telling me I’ve just won an award. Sometimes, when I’m sitting at my desk for long hours and nothing’s coming to me, I remember my fifth grade teacher, the way her eyes lit up when she said “This is really good.” The way, I — the skinny girl in the back of the classroom who was always getting into trouble for talking or missed homework assignments — sat up a little straighter, folded my hands on the desks, smiled and began to believe in me.