KEEPING IT REAL by Paula Chase

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I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

Mari can’t believe her parents didn’t tell her that their company was running a summer internship for aspiring fashion designers. The program was practically made for her! And her best friend (and secret crush) Justice is one of the three lucky kids who were accepted. When Mari confronts her parents, they explain that it was their intention to give opportunities to kids from less privileged backgrounds than her own, but Mari can’t let it go. She’s tired of being one of the only Black kids at her elite prep school, tired of all the code switching she’s required to do just to fit in. A hip-hop style internship will be a perfect opportunity to be herself–and spend some extra time with Justice.

But her plans go awry as soon as the internship starts. The two other girls see her as the boss’s daughter instead of a fellow intern. Even Justice is treating her differently and spending all his time with Kara, who for some reason seems to hate Mari’s guts. Kara doesn’t even seem enthusiastic about the program, and Mari can’t understand why she’s even there. But as the internship progresses and Mari struggles for acceptance, a long-buried secret will come to light, one that will test Mari’s world-view, her resilience, and her capacity for forgiveness.

This hard-hitting (but fun) middle grade novel explores the complex dynamics of privilege and class within a Black community. Mari’s authentic and realistic pre-teen voice will be accessible to middle school readers, who will see their own struggles to fit in reflected through her experiences. I highly recommend this novel to fans of contemporary realistic fiction and to middle school book clubs!

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