Sweet Thang

Sweet Thang

5.0 7
by Allison Whittenberg

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Growing up in Philadelphia in 1975, 14-year-old Charmaine Upshaw is obsessed with justice. Unfortunately, she gets none of it in her life: not from her parents, who make her share a room with her tap-dancing brother Leo; not at school, where light-skinned, Barbie-doll-haired Dinah Coverdale steals all the boys’ attention and makes sure dark-skinned Charmaine


Growing up in Philadelphia in 1975, 14-year-old Charmaine Upshaw is obsessed with justice. Unfortunately, she gets none of it in her life: not from her parents, who make her share a room with her tap-dancing brother Leo; not at school, where light-skinned, Barbie-doll-haired Dinah Coverdale steals all the boys’ attention and makes sure dark-skinned Charmaine knows it; and certainly not from Tracy John, her six-year-old cousin who’s taken over the family. When Charmaine is charged with babysitting her spoiled cousin after school, that’s the last straw–something’s gotta give. And when Charmaine cracks, she starts to see the world in a whole new light. Can Charmaine learn to love herself, her mahogany skin, and her attention-starved little cousin? Sometimes when everything falls apart, putting it back together can help you see the truth.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Mary Hynes-Berry
Whitenberg's first novel tells of a 14-year-old Charmaine Upshaw struggling with a full array of young teen ups and downs. Set in the 1970s, Charmaine has older brothers, a parent going back to work, and concerns about her appearance and popularity. Worst of all, "Maine is being saddled with after-school responsibility for her orphaned 6-year-old cousin, Tracy John." The way everyone seems to be charmed by Tracy John and disregards the way her life is being disrupted feels like injustice to Charmaine. Eventually, as she realizes how she is being used by the handsome, selfish Demetrius McGee, Charmaine also realizes the strong bond she does have with Tracy John and her family. The first person narrative voice is lively and convincing. It is a credit to Whitenberg that while issues of racial justice are very much a part of the story, Charmaine is above all a bright adolescent learning that life is complicated. It is particularly refreshing to see this depiction of a loving, strong African-American family.
VOYA - Ava Ehde
This story of a blended family, set in the 1970s, explores the discontented brink of adulthood of fourteen-year-old Charmaine. She searches for her place in her own family and peer circle, dealing with the pain both of losing a cherished aunt to domestic violence and being displaced in the affections of her family by her precocious, bratty nephew, six-year-old Tracy John. Charmaine is an intelligent but realistically imperfect character, capable of growth and understanding. She demonstrates these qualities best by her defense of Tracy John when a teacher recommends that he be sent to Special Education classes for behavioral problems rather than have to devote the needed time to him, and later when Charmaine stands up for herself against the gorgeous new boy in school who has been using her to do his homework. It is also a celebration of family bonds that readers will appreciate regardless of age, era, or skin color. The dialogue, characterization, attention to detail, and rhythmic narrative all underscore the promise of this first-time author. This novel is great for middle school girls, especially those looking for an undemanding family or feel-good read, and libraries providing materials to this group should consider adding it to their collection.
School Library Journal
Gr 6-9-A strong African-American family, a happy ending, and a smattering of '70s trivia define this first novel. Charmaine, 14, is jealous of her orphaned cousin, Tracy John, whom her parents adopted three years earlier. Resentment piles on when her mother goes back to work and Maine is stuck providing after-school care for the obstreperous six-year-old. As events progress, she begins to understand how he feels, and even comes to his defense in school when he is targeted for special ed. She also develops the self-confidence to stand up to a gorgeous loser with whom she is infatuated but who has been using her to do his homework. By story's end, Charmaine is content with herself, her blended family, and her life in Dardon, PA. While the '70s references sometimes feel forced and the positive transformation of the cousins' relationship is a bit too sudden, Whittenberg has created a refreshing cast and a good read. Solid, loving parents and a home that is a secure place provide a welcome respite for readers whose own lives are chaotic or who have had to read one too many problem novels.-Faith Brautigam, Gail Borden Public Library, Elgin, IL Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Three years after the death of her Auntie Karyn and the subsequent arrival of her terminally adorable cousin Tracy John into the family, 14-year-old Charmaine still hasn't come to terms with this reality. As if having the disgustingly cute Tracy John in the household isn't enough, Maine has to cope with all the usual travails of adolescence: Her skin is too black; her crush-object Demetrius is happy enough to have her do his homework, but he gives his affection to the annoyingly light-skinned Dinah; she has to baby-sit for Tracy John after school; her family doesn't understand her. Whittenberg has crafted a highly enjoyable tale, set just after the end of the Vietnam War, with a smart, funny narrator-protagonist who acknowledges the problems of the world but keeps them at arm's length. There are few surprises in store for readers-Maine learns to love Tracy John and to dislike the crummily opportunistic Demetrius-but they could do a lot worse than to spend a few hours in Maine's head. Well-crafted entertainment-grade books about African-American teens are all too rare, and this is a solid contribution to the genre. (Fiction. 10-14)

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
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Random House
File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt


I can travel through time. Sometimes it's voluntary; sometimes it's not. Like one night, I saw a movie with these white people with dark hair--I think they were Italian. In this film, there was a funeral scene where the main character jumped the six feet into the ground after the coffin was lowered, and all of a sudden I was right back at that day. My version had black people all dressed in black and only a smattering of white people, from the nursing program she had been in. She left behind a son. She had named him Tracy John Upshaw.

She was Karyn. I knew her as Auntie; she was Daddy's little sis.

Everything annoyed me that day. I was watching Auntie Karyn in her coffin, and I knew that Auntie Karyn was watching me. At the grave site, the Reverend Whitaker led us away, saying, "There's nothing we can do now."

I didn't want to be ushered to the side, and I hated those words: There's nothing we can do now. Especially the word nothing. There had to be something--something that would bring her back.

Reverend Whitaker used his arm to brace, then move me. My legs felt like they might fold under me. By the limo, my relatives were sobbing in one big huddled mass.

My last look at Auntie made my chest hurt. I was only eleven, but I felt like I was having a heart attack. Auntie had always been fair, but her face was now whiter, glittering, almost like wax. All her hopes, every dream, every prayer were lost, gone. Her large penny-colored eyes were closed forever.

What was I going to do? With the rest of my life, I mean. Without her, suddenly there was all this space. Space that would have been taken up by our adventures. Taking trips around the city or going to the movies or just hanging out. I know that sounds selfish, to think of things like that. But she was so much fun, so interesting, so up-to-the-minute with her clogs and scarves and bangles and jeans with the patches on them and Jeff caps over her natural hair. I wanted to be just like her, but my mom would never let me dress like that.

Back at the house, my family gathered. Otis Redding played on the stereo, singing "Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)." There was a lot of chicken. Fried, braised, broiled, roasted in a pan, stuck in a potpie. So much food. Nine trays of potato salad. Seven trays of bread pudding (Auntie Karyn's favorite dessert). Distant relatives ate heartily, even sloppily, macaroni salad sliding off their spoons onto their chins.
Only three at the time, Tracy John was asleep during most of that day. He was passed from arm to arm. Everyone wanted to hold the precious one; he was like a hot potato in reverse. Family and friends didn't leave till it was dark. Then it really sank in: I'll never see her again.

"I just want to know why," I sobbed into my open hands.
Daddy offered no explanation. He just came over and held me while I pulled myself together. Though he didn't sob that day, either in public or alone with me, I could see that he wasn't whole. Like the rest of us who loved her, he had a hole in the heart that would never go away.

With the sun down, my head felt lighter. My heart was heavier.

Around midnight, Uncle O called to tell us that his car had broken down by the airport. He said the engine had died. Daddy took jumper cables and my older brother, Horace, to Island Avenue to rescue him.

That night my eyes felt propped open by some unknown force. I wished Daddy had taken me with him instead of Horace. Maybe working a jack or holding a flashlight could have gotten my mind off the pain in my heart.

Nobody knew who would take Tracy John for good. Gammy had him for the rest of the week, and I thought she was going to keep him. The following week, he was with us; midweek, Gammy took him back. Then, that Friday, I was over Uncle O's apartment, and Tracy John was there.

By the end of the month, he was back at our house, and I guessed that Tracy John was going to stay with us forever. Back then, I didn't think that would be a problem. He was small and playful, and he fit right in with Daddy; Ma; my two brothers, Horace and Leo; and me.

But within a week of Tracy John's moving into our home for good, I lost my room.
When Ma told me, I was shocked. "What!"

Daddy backed her up, repeating what she had just said.

"No, no," I pleaded. "Let him move in with Leo."

"Leo is moving in with you, Charmaine," Ma said.

"But he's a boy. I can't live with a boy."

"Boy, girl, don't make no matter." Daddy waved me away. "We're all family."

I turned to Ma. "I don't have any friends who share a room with their brothers."

"Then you don't have any friends who share a room with their brothers," Daddy said. "That don't mean nothing. You and your brother will live together. That's how they do it in the country."

"What country?" I asked.

Daddy shot me a look that told me it was in my best interest to be quiet. I didn't argue with Daddy. Even at the age of eleven, I was pro-life--my own.

Inside, though, I was mad. How could they do a thing like that to me? How did Tracy John get his own room? Tracy John could stay with Leo, or Horace for that matter. Tracy John wouldn't even know the difference.

As worried as I had been three years before, now things had reached crisis proportions. Each day I was reminded that it was all about His Highness: the precious one, Tracy John Upshaw.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

A first-time novelist, Allison Whittenberg lives in Philadelphia, Pennyslvania.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Sweet Thang 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
CamilleJT More than 1 year ago
excellent book
Guest More than 1 year ago
Great energy for the time, place, and the people in this novel. Whittenberg has a way of writing that puts you right into the action. And her character 'Tracy John' is a handful, very well drawn.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This author really has a way of painting with words a beautiful portrait of Black life in the the 70s. I love this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a fast read and very entertaining. Great character development.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was drawn to this book by its cover. Its content kept me hooked with its witty, rye prose style. The main character, Charmaine, is strong positive woman in the making.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love the opposites in this book. The main character Charmaine is smart and witty but makes some dumb choices. Her cousin Tracy John comes off at first as a bratty, abrasive kid, but is really a sensitive little boy underneath. Charmaine's love interest is hilariously vacant. I had a lot of fun reading this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Very much a laugh/cry book. This visit with the Upshaw family, as told through the insightful, wry eye of 14-year-old Charmaine, is a real treat. I loved the way all the family members had their thing (the brother takes dance lessons, another brother's off to the service, the littlest one is constantly bratty). It is really a vivid picture of family ties. Uplifting but realistic.