Sophie has just moved to a mainly white neighborhood of Los Angeles. Luckily, she has a friend nearby, Jennifer, who is happy to stick up for Sophie when neighbor girls won't include Sophie. It's still a difficult summer, however. Sophie loves to write, and is working on a book about her father's half sister. No one talks about her, but she was an "outside child". This makes Sophie even more upset when she sees her lawyer father with another woman. Her sister Lily is off to Spelman college in the fall, and is working at a boutique where she is passing for white. There is a new housekeeper, Mrs. Baylor, with whom Sophie doesn't get along-- Mrs. Baylor has told her that in Africa, Sophie's light skin might get her killed! Mrs. Baylor's son Nathan is painting the house, and Lily is attracted to him. Lily's mother, who managed to become a successful professional despite being raised in an impoverished sharecropping family, forbids this. Lily and Jennifer both want to try out for a local play, and Sophie thinks she has a good chance. When the Watts riots occur, Sophie's family is more impacted by this than she could imagine, and Sophie learns some tough life lessons about race and prejudice during this point in US history.
This is a book that was definitely needed! How have there never been any middle grade books about the Watts Riots? The setting of this is brilliant, and I suspect that there might be an autobiographical component to this. Sophie is a wonderful character, and her friendship with Jennifer rings very true; Jennifer's family tries very hard to be "color blind", but that is a difficult task to accomplish even under the best of times. The issue of light skinned versus dark skinned black people is addressed in a very effective way, as is the feeling of some blacks at the time that their education and work ethic should be enough to make them successful, and that they shouldn't have to worry about issues of race. Hard to explain, but the book covers a lot of difficult, nuanced issues in a very effective way. Not only that, but it's just an interesting story about a tween girl.