cover image McKendree


Sandra Belton. Greenwillow Books, $16.99 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-688-15950-4

Tilara does not remember her mother, who died when Tilara was almost two, but she has grown up studying photographs of the light-skinned lady, ""the loveliest woman who ever lived,"" according to Tilara's exacting father. Comparing her own ""dark chocolate"" skin to her mother's complexion (""the color of cream""), Tilara is convinced she will never reach her father's ideal of prettiness, nor can she imagine any other kind of good looks. In this intimate coming-of-age novel set in 1948, Belton (the Ernestine and Amanda novels) prods readers to reflect upon stereotyped notions of beauty as they follow 14-year-old Tilara's journey of self-discovery. Spending the summer with Aunt Cloelle in West Virginia, Tilara enjoys a new sense of freedom and unconditional acceptance. In a neatly orchestrated turning point, she agrees to do volunteer work at McKendree, the retirement home where her aunt is employed. Residents and fellow teenage volunteers embodying diverse points of view, backgrounds and personalities open Tilara's eyes to age-old prejudices about skin color as well as her own heritage. Although the novel becomes too cluttered with tangential issues and unresolved romantic triangles, the author's portrayal of her heroine's maturation remains persuasive and thought-provoking. Ages 10-up. (May)