Friday, February 4, 2011

The Latte Rebellion by Sarah Jamila Stevenson

Friday, February 4, 2011

When high school senior Asha Jamison gets called a "towel head" at a pool party, the racist insult gives Asha and her best friend Carey a great money-making idea for a post-graduation trip. They'll sell T-shirts promoting the Latte Rebellion, a club that raises awareness of mixed-race students.

Seemingly overnight, their "cause" goes viral and the T-shirts become a nationwide fad. As new chapters spring up from coast to coast, Asha realizes that her simple marketing plan has taken on a life of its own-and its starting to ruin hers. Asha's once-stellar grades begin to slip, threatening her Ivy League dreams, and her friendship with Carey is hanging by a thread. And when the peaceful underground movement turns militant, Asha's school launches a disciplinary hearing. Facing expulsion, Asha must decide how much she's willing to risk for something she truly believes in. (Publisher's summary from Goodreads)

The Latte Rebellion by Sarah Jamila Stevenson is an offbeat contemporary coming of age novel that I found both engaging and conceptually noteworthy in plot, characterization, and theme.

From the beginning when Asha and Carey, two smart and academically driven seniors, decide to sell T-shirts as a way to raise money for a much needed summer vacation, I was caught up in their money making scheme. I loved how Stevenson used lattes as a metaphor for her mixed-race protagonists and how she catapulted the girls’ innocent money making idea into a movement that spread nationwide.

While the story begins slowly, I never felt that the pace lagged because Stevenson’s exposition built a strong foundation to her characters. I also liked how she moved between flashbacks to present as Ahsa faces a disciplinary hearing at school over her involvement in the rebellion.  I thought that this format provided a very realistic look at how actions and other peoples’ misconceptions can propel a set of circumstances into a life-altering event.

I also felt drawn to many of the characters and especially Ahsa, who struggled to be the academically successful student her parents expected her to be. However, like many teens on the verge of independence, she questions her inability to juggle these expectations with her own very typical teenage desires, which include a need to have fun, be popular, and achieve a life that goes beyond the “perfect report card, the perfect college and the perfect list of achievements.”  The Latte Rebellion ends up being Ahsa’s outlet and as the rebellion grows so does she.

Even the secondary characters lent a realism to the story. For example as the rebellion grew, Ahsa and Carey friendship waned. I found this unfortunate, but also very true to life because each girls’ goals changed. I loved the inclusion of Ahsa’s grandmothers and how their own differences clashed and yet added insight into Ahsa’s personality.  Finally, I really enjoyed Miranda, whose enthusiastic belief in the Latte Rebellion Manifesto contributed to Asha’s seeing beyond her self-serving idea and helped her find direction.

However, the real strength of The Latte Rebellion for me is that Stevenson effectively uses her characters to illuminate the “complex nature of today’s racial landscape.” The story never becomes preachy, yet still manages to bring up issues of acceptance, tolerance, friendship, and the pressures our youth face in navigating the bridge between adolescences and egocentricity to adulthood and social awareness. 

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