Book Review: I Rise by Marie Arnold
A heartbreaking and powerful novel about racism and social justice as fourteen-year-old Ayo has to decide whether to take on her mother’s activist role when her mom is shot by police. As she tries to find answers, Ayo looks to the wisdom of her ancestors and her Harlem community for guidance.
Ayo’s mother founded the biggest civil rights movement to hit New York City in decades. It’s called ‘See Us’ and it tackles police brutality and racial profiling in Harlem. Ayo has spent her entire life being an activist and now, she wants out. She wants to get her first real kiss, have a boyfriend, and just be a normal teen.
When her mom is put into a coma after a riot breaks out between protesters and police, protestors want Ayo to become the face of See Us and fight for justice for her mother who can no longer fight for herself. While she deals with her grief and anger, Ayo must also discover if she has the strength to take over where her mother left off.
This impactful and unforgettable novel takes on the important issues of inequality, systemic racism, police violence, and social justice.
This was an outstanding read. I loved Ayo’s many lectures about activism and social justices issues that just naturally came up as part of their conversations. I love that she’s trying to take a step back from the See Us movement and be her own person and live her own teenage life, but of course who she is is her mother’s daughter, a social justice-minded teenager who can’t help but correct people and offer information and give little lectures because that’s who she is, whether she’s part of See Us anymore or not. Her mother and the See Us movement ask how much must they pay for the crime of living while Black, and the bulk of the novel focuses on all the many issues that surround this question and their work. How much will it cost to be safe, to be seen as equal, to just simply exist? Ayo’s desire to distance herself from the movement and try to figure out what it might possibly mean to just be a “regular” kid is inspired by feeling like the movement is her whole life, but, eventually, she also admits that it all feels so heavy. “You should have told me the truth about Black girl magic; you should have told me that magic is heavy” (136) she asks her mother. Things only get heavier after her mother is shot at a protest and suddenly everyone is looking to Ayo to speak for her mom, to speak for the movement, to inspire, to give hope, to be strong. Never mind that she’s, of course, traumatized and upset over what has happened with her mother. She’s also just trying to live her life—liking a cute boy, protecting her friends, figuring out social dynamics, making mistakes, and so on. When the very thing she’d hoped to distance herself from demands she step into the spotlight, so rises to the occasion, thanks to the help of her friends, her community, her family, and the wisdom and insight she gains from undertaking one of her mother’s scavenger hunts. Powerfully told, this look at racism, police brutality, and activism will leave readers wanting more books from Arnold. A must-have book.
Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 08/02/2022
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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