Title: Watch Us Rise
Authors: Renée Watson & Ellen Hagan
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2019
Themes: death of a parent, fatphobia, racism, poetry, feminism, voices, mysogeny, African-American, microagressions, #ownvoices, activism, intersectionality, sexual harassment
“I walk over to the plus size section, wondering why my sizes have to be in a special section of the store and not mixed in with the other sizes. There is a definite divide, as if a shirt with a 3X tag will contaminate the other clothes. I look through the clothes-there’s not much to choose from. Just two racks compared to a whole store full of options for thinner girls.”
Jasmine and Chelsea are sick of the way women are treated even at their progressive NYC high school, so they decide to start a Women’s Rights Club. They post everything online—poems, essays, videos of Chelsea performing her poetry, and Jasmine’s response to the racial macroaggressions she experiences—and soon they go viral. But with such positive support, the club is also targeted by online trolls. When things escalate, the principal shuts the club down. Jasmine and Chelsea will risk everything for their voices—and those of other young women—to be heard.
Why I like this book:
Written from two points of view, best friends, Jasmine and Chelsea are two vocal teen protagonists who discover that despite their NYC liberal high school being super progressive, they receive a lot of flack for the after-school feminism club that they create. In this club, they discuss women’s history, share their poetry and writings, and open up discussions on what they’re experiencing. The micro and macro-agressions that they and their friends encounter are typical of thousands of teens every day. The cast in the novel is diverse and the girls have supportive friends and some supportive adults too. Jasmine is a plus-sized black girl actress and writer whose dad is dying of cancer; Chelsea is an outspoken feminist white girl poet ; their best friend Nadine is a Japanese Lebanese designer and Issac is a Peurto Rican artist and an ally to their cause. Jasmine’s dad, who calls them “art-tivists”, gives them tons of encouragement.
The novel explores many social injustice issues such as, class, race, gender, sexuality, and body image. And it certainly touches on sexual harassment as in my book review last Tuesday. At one point I felt like they were trying to cover too much, but then I realized that these issues are in all our classrooms all the time. Not all these issues are resolved during the novel either, and the loose ends also felt realistic to me.
The pacing is great, the characters are strong. Of all the issues addressed, the strongest representation is probably that of women of color in the media–how age-old stereotypes still prevail– how fat women are always represented as needing to lose weight to be happier; how they have to seek out clothes in plus size aisle; how all media reinforce the same old beauty standards, which only leads to more self-esteem issues among young women. There are also many many more conversations here about sexism and misogyny and sexual harassment and microaggressions and how even the Principal/ teachers of a progressive school can be tone deaf to certain issues that stem from intersectionality.
I enjoyed the dual narrative and loved the essays, poems, and playlists that the characters create for the Write Like a Girl blog, as well ass all the comments. The blog posts also offer super details about contemporary and historical feminists who have been great activists, and their works.
These protagonists are sixteen, of course they don’t get it all right, did you at sixteen? So yes, I personally think boys can be feminists. But they are a pair of powerful friends, and leaders among their peers, and they are an inspiration to make a difference. I recommend this book to young and old, feminists and questionners.
Four pages at the back of the book are dedicated to resources for young activists.