The Skin I'm In

The Skin I'm In

4.6 146
by Sharon Flake, Sharon G. Flake

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Maleeka suffers every day from the taunts of the other kids in her class. If they're not getting at her about her homemade clothes or her good grades, it's about her dark, black skin.


When a new teacher, whose face is blotched with a startling white patch, starts at their school, Maleeka can see there is bound to be trouble for her too. But the

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Maleeka suffers every day from the taunts of the other kids in her class. If they're not getting at her about her homemade clothes or her good grades, it's about her dark, black skin.


When a new teacher, whose face is blotched with a startling white patch, starts at their school, Maleeka can see there is bound to be trouble for her too. But the new teacher's attitude surprises Maleeka. Miss Saunders loves the skin she's in. Can Maleeka learn to do the same?

Editorial Reviews

ALAN Review
Maleeka Madison has problems fitting in with others at her school. Her hair is too nappy, her skin is too dark, her grades are too good, her clothes are too weird, and her teachers are too fond of her. She desperately tries to make friends and to be accepted by her peers. Her situation drastically changes when she meets Miss Saunders, and the changes are not always for the better. The Skin I'm In is a compelling novel of a young girl's struggle with self-acceptance and acceptance by her peer group. Through her struggles and with her teacher's help, she learns "to look into the mirror and like what [she sees], even when it doesn't look like anybody else's idea of beauty." Readers will find strong characters and an engaging plot in this book. Genre: Coming of Age/Realistic Fiction. 1998, Jump at the Sun/Hyperion, Ages 9 to 12, $14.95. Reviewer: Terrell Young
Children's Literature - Rebecca Joseph
In this remarkable first novel, Flake confronts issues of race and self esteem. Her protagonist Maleeka Madison is tormented by other students because of her dark skin. When Maleeka meets her new teacher Miss Saunders, she thinks she has finally someone who is worse off than her, because Miss Saunders's skin is blotched from a rare skin condition. As she watches Miss Saunders refuse to accept the taunts of children, Maleeka begins to explore her response mechanisms to the cruelty of her peers. In rethinking how she defends herself, Maleeka learns that she too often judges people by their appearances. This provocative novel explores the ways in which people's own insecurities can affect how they are treated along with how they behave.
School Library Journal
Gr 6-8-Seventh-grader Maleeka Madison is miserable when a new teacher comes to her depressed inner-city school. Miss Saunders evidently is rich, self-assured in spite of the white birthmark across her black skin, and prone to getting into kids' faces about both their behavior and their academic potential. Black and bright, Maleeka is so swamped by her immediate problems that Miss Saunders's attentions nearly capsize her stability. The girl's mother has just emerged from a two-year period of intense mourning for her dead husband, during which time her daughter has provided her with physical and moral support with no adult assistance. At school, Maleeka endures mean-spirited teasing about the darkness of her skin and her unstylish clothing. She seeks solace in writing an extended creative piece, at Miss Saunders's instigation, and also in the company of a powerful clique of nasty girls. Told in Maleeka's voice, this first novel bristles with attitude that is both genuine and alarming. The young teen understands too well that her brains aren't as valuable as the social standing that she doesn't have. In the end, she is able to respond positively to Miss Saunders; she also becomes socially anointed through the affections of the most popular boy in the school. This message rings true in spite of the fact that Maleeka's salvation isn't exactly politically correct. Young teens will appreciate Flake's authenticity and perhaps realize how to learn from Maleeka's struggle for security and self-assurance.-Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA
Kirkus Reviews
A timid seventh grader finds the mettle to shake some bad companions in this patchy esteem-builder from Flake. Tired of being harassed in the halls for her dark skin and homemade clothes, Maleeka latches on to tough, mouthy classmate Charlese for protection, although the cost is high: doing Charlese's homework and enduring her open contempt. Enter Miss Saunders, a large, expensively dressed advertising executive on sabbatical for a year to teach in an inner-city school; Maleeka puts up a hostile front, but slowly, angrily, responds to the woman's "interference," creating a journal that is part diary, part a fictional slave's narrative that later wins a writing contest. As Maleeka inches toward independence, Charlese counterattacks, bullying her into incriminating acts that climaxes with a fire in Miss Saunders's classroom. The violence is contrived, the characters sketchy and predictable, but the relationship that develops between Maleeka and Miss Saunders isn't all one-way. A serviceable debut featuring a main character who grows in clearly composed stages. (Fiction. 11-13) .

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Product Details

Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.25(w) x 7.75(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

THE FIRST TIME I SEEN HER, I got a bad feeling inside. Not like I was in danger or nothing. Just like she was somebody I should stay clear of. To tell the truth, she was a freak like me. The kind of person folks can't help but tease. That's bad if you're a kid like me. It's worse for a new teacher like her.

    Miss Saunders is as different as they come. First off, she got a man's name, Michael. Now who ever heard of a woman named that? She's tall and fat like nobody's business, and she's got the smallest feet I ever seen. Worse yet, she's got a giant white stain spread halfway across her face like somebody tossed acid on it or something.

    I try not to stare the first day that amazon woman-teacher heads my way. See, I got a way of attracting strange characters. They draw to me like someone stuck a note on my forehead saying, "losers wanted here." Well, I spend a lot of time trying to fit in here at McClenton Middle School. I ain't letting nobody ruin it for me, especially no teacher.

    I didn't even look up when Miss Saunders came up to me that day like I'm some kind of information center.

    "Excuse me," she says. She's wearing a dark purple suit, and a starched white shirt with matching purple buttons. That outfit costs three hundred dollars, easy. "I'm trying to find the principal's office. I know it's around here somewhere. Can you help me?"

    Before I catch myself, my eyes ricochet like pin balls, bounding from John-John McIntrye's beady brown eyes right up to hers. I swallow hard. Stare at her till John-John whacksme on the arm with his rolled-up comic book.

    "That-a-way," I say, pointing up the hall.

    "Thank you. Now what's your name?" she says, putting down her briefcase like she's gonna stay here awhile.

    "Maleeka. Maleeka Madison—the third," I say, smacking my gum real loud.

    "Don't let that fancy name fool you," John-John butts in. "She ain't nobody worth knowing."

    Miss Saunders stares down at him till he turns his head away and starts playing with the buttons on his shirt like some two-year-old.

    "Like I say, the office is that-a-way." I point.

    "Thank you," she says, walking off. Then she stops stone still, like some bright idea has just come to her, turns around, and heads back my way. My skin starts to crawl before she even opens her mouth. "Maleeka, your skin is pretty. Like a blue-black sky after it's rained and rained," she says. Then she smiles and explains how that line comes from a favorite poem of hers. Next thing I know, she's heading down the hall again like nothing much happened.

    When she's far enough away, John-John says to me, "I don't see no pretty, just a whole lotta black." Before I can punch him good, he's singing a rap song. "Maleeka, Maleeka—baboom, boom, boom, we sure wanna keep her, baboom, boom, boom, but she so black, baboom, boom, boom, we just can't see her."

    Before I know it, three more boys is pointing at me and singing that song, too. Me, I'm wishing the building will collapse on top of me.

    John-John McIntyre is the smallest seventh grader in the world. Even fifth graders can see over his head. Sometimes I have a hard time believing he and me are both thirteen. He's my color, but since second grade he's been teasing me about being too black. Last year, when I thought things couldn't get no worse, he came up with this here song. Now, here this woman comes talking that black stuff. Stirring him up again.

    Seems like people been teasing me all my life. If it ain't about my color, it's my clothes. Momma makes them by hand. They look it, too—lopsided pockets, stitching forever unraveling. I never know when a collar's gonna fall off, or a pushpin gonna stick me and make me holler out in class. I stopped worrying about that this year now that Charlese lends me clothes to wear. I stash them in the locker and change into them before first period. I'm like Superman when I get Charlese's clothes on. I got a new attitude, and my teachers sure don't like it none.

    It's bad enough that I'm the darkest, worse-dressed thing in school. I'm also the tallest, skinniest thing you ever seen. And people like John-John remind me of it every chance they get. They don't say nothing about the fact that I'm a math whiz, and can outdo ninth graders when it comes to figuring numbers. Or that I got a good memory and never forget one single, solitary thing I read. They only see what they see, and they don't seem to like what they see much.

    Up till now, I just took it. The name calling. The pushing and shoving and cheating off me. Then last week something happened. I was walking down the hall in one of Char's dresses, strutting my stuff, looking good. Then Char walked up to me and told me to take off her clothes. There was maybe eight or nine kids around when she said it, too, including Caleb. I thought she was kidding. She wasn't. So I went to the girls' room and put my own stuff back on. That's when I made up my mind. Enough is enough. I deserve better than for people to treat me any old way they want. But saying that is one thing, making it happen is something else.

    So you see, I got my own troubles. I don't need no scar-faced teacher making things worse. But I got this feeling Miss Saunders is gonna mess things up for me real bad.

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