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Genesis Begins Again

Book review by
Barbara Saunders, Common Sense Media
Genesis Begins Again Book Poster Image
Teen learns to love herself in uplifting tale of misfits.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The love of music is a major thread in the novel. Music connects Genesis to her father, and a music teacher leads Genesis to find the talent for singing that helps raise her self-esteem and increase her popularity. Through conversations with the teacher, kids learn about the life stories of great 20th-century musical artists Billie Holiday, Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, and Miles Davis.

Positive Messages

Compassion heals. It heals both the one who receives it, and the one who offers it. If you accept other people with all their imperfections, you will find it easier to accept yourself. Parents are people; they make mistakes. Just because a parent does something that hurts you doesn't mean they don't love you. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The author skillfully creates nuanced positive role models. The main character, an African American girl, moves from Detroit to the suburbs, where she ends up at a diverse school. There she befriends a girl from a big Greek family and a black boy who plays classical violin and excels at math. She encounters supportive teachers of different races and personalities. Genesis' mother works hard and protects her daughter both physically and emotionally, and makes efforts to return to school herself. Her father, though sometimes mean and usually unreliable, shows his love by making Genesis her favorite foods and eventually sharing his stories about traumatic experiences. The grandmother's door is always open to the family when they need her, even though she disapproves of their choices. Negative behaviors and attitudes -- bullying, "colorism," substance abuse, lying, cheating, and financial irresponsibility -- are all shown to have consequences. A character's mental illness -- obsessive-compulsive disorder -- is presented with sensitivity. 

Violence

In a drunken outburst, genesis' dad throws a beer bottle against a wall. Genesis makes many attempts to lighten her skin, which escalates to unintentional self-injury: She bathes in bleach, rubs lemons on her skin, and scrubs with exfoliant to the point of creating scars. Finally she uses commercial lightening cream until her skin develops splotches.

Sex
Language

Occasional "damn," "hell," and "Oh, God!" from the parents when they're angry. There are also slurs and mean nicknames about people's skin color. 

Consumerism

Very occasional mentions of brand names, such as "iPod," are relevant to the context. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Genesis' father, Emory, is addicted to alcohol and gambling. Genesis' mother demands he go to Alcoholics Anonymous; he goes for a while and then stops because he doesn't believe he has a problem. In one scene, Genesis pours his booze down the drain and hides the bottles. He says mean things while drinking and, in one scene, throws a beer bottle. There's a suggestion that his alcoholism stems from traumatic experiences. He's also a smoker and occasionally defies rules not to smoke in the house.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Genesis Begins Again, the debut novel by Alicia D. Williams, is about a 13-year-old African American girl in Detroit who learns to love herself despite two main problems: her father's gambling and alcohol addictions, which lead to the family's repeated evictions, and her family's "tradition" of prizing the light skin of her mother and grandmother and looking down on the dark skin of Genesis and her father. There are some potentially disturbing scenes of Genesis trying to lighten her skin by rubbing lemons on it, scrubbing herself raw with exfoliant, bathing in bleach, and using commercial skin-bleaching creams. There's occasional strong language by the parents ("damn," "hell," "Oh, God!" ) and slurs and mean nicknames about people's skin color. 

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What's the story?

In the opening chapter of GENESIS BEGINS AGAIN, 13-year-old Genesis has finally gotten the cool girls to come to her house in Detroit. When they arrive, her family's furniture is outside and there's a lock on the door. They've been evicted -- again. Her father gambled away the rent money. Her mother takes them to stay at her grandmother's. Her father shows up, saying he has a new job, and his boss will rent them his nice home in the suburbs. In her new school, Genesis discovers different kinds of people: kids who don't tease her about being "too black" and teachers who help her discover her smarts and talents. Her new surroundings and eccentric group of friends help Genesis begin to love herself and gain some understanding of her parents, too.

Is it any good?

This uplifting story shows a middle school girl getting though family problems, discovering her unique talent, and moving beyond concerns about her skin color to finally love herself. Author Alicia D. Williams is a teacher, and it shows. In Genesis Begins Again, she does a great job capturing the way young teens think and act like adults one moment and like children the next. For example, when Genesis realizes neither of her parents is effective in breaking the cycle of hope and eviction, she takes matters into her own hands: She heads out to her father's job site to try and work something out with the boss-landlord. Yet once she gets on the bus, she becomes afraid at taking such a long ride by herself and relies on the driver for direction and reassurance. The other middle-schoolers also seem authentic in what excites them and what makes them upset. 

Williams also does a good job of showing how parents look through their kids' eyes. Genesis' gradual understand ing of her parents' humanity is moving.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about "the paper bag test" described in Genesis Begins Again. Why do you think it was so hurtful to the people in Genesis' family? How is "colorism" related to racism?

  • In music, Genesis finds comfort, connection with others, and a talent. What kinds of things help you feel better when you're sad or angry? What are some special things you share with your parents and grandparents? What are you really good at?

  • Genesis' friend Sophia has a condition that makes her feel very anxious when the paper towels run out or her desk isn't lined up with the marks on the floor. What does it mean to have a mental illness?

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