Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams

Genesis Begins Again

Information

Goodreads: Genesis Begins Again
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2019

Summary

Thirteen-year-old Genesis has a list of 100 things she hates about herself, including her skin color and her hair. Her family doesn’t help. Her father keeps coming home drunk and he doesn’t pay the rent, so they have to keep moving. Now Genesis is in a new school once again. She thinks she might enter the talent show, but she’s not sure she has the confidence. But what if her singing finally makes her father love her? Genesis will have to look deep within herself if she is going to find something she likes. But maybe, just maybe, she will finally have the courage to start over.

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Review

Genesis Begins Again is an important, if heavy, book that tackles colorism and internalized racism. Thirteen-year-old Genesis has learned to loathe herself both because of the teasing she gets at school and because her own family often says things to indicate to her that they consider it more desirable to have light skin. The book chronicles Genesis’ journey as she adds to a list of thing to hate about herself, and goes to increasingly extreme methods to attempt to lighten her skin. Readers will find their hearts breaking as they root for Genesis to to stop listening to the negative voices surrounding her, and to realize that she is beautiful, inside and out.

This is the kind of book that adults undoubtedly recognize as necessary and important, the kind of book that reveals damaging ideals so that they can be fought. Even so, the topics it covers may understandably give some parents and educators pause, since they may want to address some of these issues more in-depth. The book is targeted towards middle school readers, and, so, reading about a girl who soaks in a bathtub with bleach and water may cause some adults to worry that young readers might get ideas (especially since the book suggests that the bleach was not physically harmful). However, I think adult readers should also recognize that many young readers may already be grappling with the issues raised in this book. They may experience their own form of self-loathing, their own desire to change the body they are in. Williams’ book, for those readers, is simply acknowledging those feelings, and making those readers feel seen. It is reflecting a reality that many readers already live. But I have included some more notes about the book’s contents, for adults who wish to know more about what to expect going in.

Importantly, however, the book is not all doom and gloom. It is a hard book to read, and I gasped and cried through Genesis’s journey, I was so afraid she was going to hurt herself. But Genesis has a loving (if imperfect) mother and two very good friends, who constantly encourage her to believe in herself and to recognize how wonderful she already is. The book is ultimately about Genesis’s growth, and it ends on a mostly hopeful note.

Genesis Begins Again is a wonderfully written book that draws readers into Genesis’ story, and make them understand why she makes the choices she does, even when those choices seem dangerous. I think many readers who have doubted themselves will be able to see a little of themselves in Genesis, and want to give her a hug and tell her that she is beautiful. This is a strong debut. Hopefully we see much more from Alicia D. Williams!

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Parental Notes

Parents may want to be aware of certain issues that arise in the book, so they can discuss them with their children. (Note this section will contain spoilers.)

The book is narrated by Genesis, a girl who has learned to loathe herself and the way she looks by listening to the taunts of her classmates and the verbal abuse of her family. Throughout the book, Genesis attempts different methods to lighten her skin such as rubbing herself with lemons and a scrubbing sponge (which leads to serious cuts across her whole body), bathing in bleach (which the book presents as not physically dangerous, if ineffective), and stealing her mother’s credit card to purchase bleaching cream (which the book does note can cause cancer).

The book also touches upon Genesis and her mother’s relationship with her father, a man who gambles and frequently comes home angry and drunk. He lies about his job and frequently does not pay rent, forcing the family to move repeatedly. Genesis’s mother admits she can’t find the strength to leave him. Genesis, too, repeatedly tries to win her father’s favor, even though her verbally abuses her. This issue is left semi-unresolved by the end of the book. Genesis realizes that her father is suffering emotional wounds from childhood, and seems inclined to forgive him once again, even though there is no promise that his behavior will change.

Finally, of course, the book deals with colorism, showing how Genesis learns to hate herself because her classmates call her names, because her father says he hates that she didn’t turn out light-skinned like her mother, and because her grandmother tells the story of how their ancestors tried to “marry up” by marrying only light-skinned individuals. Members who did not do this were disowned. Genesis internalizes this, learning to judge others by how dark or light-skinned they are and by whether or not they have “good hair.” Ultimately, however, Genesis learns that everyone is hurting and that everyone has things they wish they could change, but she has to learn how to love herself the way she is.

4 stars

2 thoughts on “Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams

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