WHAT I LOVED:
Readers get a dual POV novel narrated by Jasmine, a fat Black girl, and Chelsea, a white girl who presumably wears straight sizes but at the very least is nowhere near Jasmine’s size. I bring their body sizes up because it’s relevant; Jasmine and Chelsea have been best friends for years and are together in their management of the Write Like a Girl blog, but Chelsea fails to really see Jasmine sometimes. When the two go check out a new clothing store, Chelsea finds a bunch of clothing whilst Jasmine sees only two racks of plus-size clothes and is told most of the larger sizes are only online. Then when Chelsea orders shirts to support Write Like a Girl, she doesn’t order a shirt big enough to fit Jasmine comfortably.
The point: even in progressive spaces and when among friends who are allies in the fight for human rights, bigotry is still present. Being left-wing or liberal doesn’t automatically make a person or a space anti-bigotry. That’s something people have to actively work for! People who call themselves liberals can be just as hideously racist as Donald Trump, for instance. This is something Jasmine knows all too well thanks to Chelsea’s size-blindness and that Chelsea comes to learn as well when their “progressive” high school’s administration objects to Write Like a Girl’s posts and shuts the whole thing down when some classmates use a school dance as an opportunity to make fun of Jasmine’s and Chelsea’s ideas.
When you’re protesting an issue and your so-called allies do exactly the thing you’re protesting against, it can make fighting for what’s right all the more draining. But these girls don’t quit when it gets tough. Jasmine eventually calls Chelsea out, the two of them work together to fight back against their school’s censorship, and their club is so empowering even when it’s fictional and only on the page. It makes you dream of fighting back against the same pressures in your life. If you’re not a teen or no longer in school while reading this, it might make you reflect on your time in school like it made me do.
Just don’t take anyone or anything at its word when it calls itself progressive. That’s what the girls’ high school markets itself as, but I wouldn’t say the place is progressive to any degree when Chelsea tells the principal directly that she was sexually harassed by the student body president earlier the same day and Principal Hayes responds by doing NOTHING. He really, truly deserved a kick to the reproductives.
Sadly, his response is quite realistic. When three boys sexually harassed me on the school bus for weeks in junior high, their punishment was merely being assigned seats at the front of the bus. Students harassed me during school? Absolutely nothing. Heck, my ninth grade gym class was one big Title IX violation and I had no idea! Had I been aware of Title IX at the time and tried to report it to the administration, I highly doubt anything would have changed. This was only ten years ago. Call me a cynic, but I doubt the schools I went to are doing any better now in those regards.
WHAT LEFT ME WANTING:
ANYWAY. One element of Watch Us Rise that didn’t work for me was its timeline, being that the entire novel takes place over the course of a single school year. The events feel artificially stretched out at times and it left me with an odd feeling I was missing events in their lives. Though I read the book in almost a single sitting, that choice messed with the pacing and messed with my sense of time.
If Watson and Hagan collaborate on another YA novel in the future, I’ll read it. If Hagan publishes a solo YA novel, I’ll definitely check it out. I’ve still got it on my list to check out some of her poetry after seeing what she came up with in Watch Us Rise! Teens will learn a great deal about activism while enjoying a well-written story with a diverse, unique cast of characters.