Jamila Clarke. Josie Rivera. Francesca George. Three mixed-race girls, close friends whose immigrant parents worked hard to settle their families in a neighborhood with the best schools. The three girls are outsiders there, but they have each other. Now, at the start seventh grade, they are told they will be part of an experiment, taking a long bus ride to a brand-new school built to “mix up the black and white kids.” Their parents don’t want them to be experiments. Francesca’s send her to a private school, leaving Jamila and Josie to take the bus ride without her.
While Francesca is testing her limits, Josie and Jamila find themselves outsiders again at the new school. As the year goes on, the Spanish girls welcome Josie, while Jamila develops a tender friendship with a boy—but it’s a relationship that can exist only at school.
Scholastic Reading Counts
It’s 1971, and the “grand new experiment” of school integration and busing means that twelve-year-old narrator Jamila, along with her best friends Josie and Francesca, will be starting junior high across town. Having been made to feel like outsiders in their predominantly white Queens, New York, school and neighborhood, the mixed-race Black tweens are excited to finally “fit in.” But circumstances divide them, and the reality of their day-to-day experiences is not what they had expected. Jamila’s narration provides the voice and perspective of an authentic-sounding soon-to-be teenager who must navigate transitions, friend-ships, school crushes, cliques, and family expectations. Through short sentences and straightforward text, Budhos explores nuanced conflicts; although the main characters experience microaggressions and racism, for example, there’s also a need for them to acknowledge their light-skinned and class privileges at their new school. An appended author’s note provides more details: “When we think of integration, we usually think of the iconic images of the National Guard accom-panying nine students to school in Little Rock, Arkansas, or of black children being bused into white neighborhoods. Yet the story is much more complex—and it is ongoing.” This engaging novel serves as a gateway for readers to learn about the issues of desegregation busing plans in the U.S. and the influence of various adults, and government decisions, in multiracial childhoods.