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In Sharon Draper’s latest book, BLENDED, the main character is known by two names: Isabella and Izzy. This may seem minor to anyone who goes by both their regular name and a nickname depending on the circumstances, but for Isabella/Izzy, which name she is called is an indication of whose house she is in and is symbolic of the division within her family. When she was seven years old, her parents told her they would be getting a divorce. This brought an end to the constant fighting that took place between Isaiah and Nicole, but it also meant Izzy would see less of her father, who moved to California for a new job. However, when Izzy is 11 years old, Isaiah moves back to Ohio and receives joint custody. This means Izzy lives at her mom’s house one week and her dad’s house the next week. She is caught in a constant back-and-forth and must still endure the tension between her parents on what she refers to as Exchange Day.

"I think that there are a lot of important, relevant points made in this story about issues facing black Americans today..."

Izzy’s main passion is piano, and much of the book builds toward a recital called Pianopalooza. While practicing her classical recital piece at her dad’s house, Izzy comes across “boogie-woogie pieces” that belong to her dad’s girlfriend; playing these allows Izzy to develop a deeper bond with Anastasia. Isabella’s relationship with John Mark, her mother’s boyfriend, is also explored and strengthened through several heart-to-heart conversations. The other two main relationships throughout the book are those she has with Heather and Imani, two of her classmates. Imani experiences a hate crime in the beginning of the story, which opens up race-related dialogue in the middle school and at home; it also foreshadows a much larger incident that takes place at the end of the book. Isabella’s mom is white and her father is black, so she has many questions for them as to how she should identify and how the world will view her.
The story is told from Isabella’s perspective and reads like a diary. Perhaps it is for this reason that it feels as scattered, and therefore as realistic, as it does --- one moment Izzy is asking poignant questions about the way black citizens are treated in America and the next she is having a meltdown over a pimple. She seems to focus slightly more on the former issue by the end of the book, but at the end of it all she is still just a kid obsessed with slime and grateful for her friends. Friendship is a really important theme in BLENDED. Izzy’s friendships with Heather and Imani, and with her soon-to-be-stepbrother Darren are steady and unbreakable, and are what help get her through hard times.
The adults in the book actually underwent the largest character transformations. It was not until the very end of the story that Isaiah and Nicole begin to realize the emotional damage they are doing to Izzy by continuing to argue and escalating situations with one another rather than doing their best to get along for their daughter’s sake.
I think that there are a lot of important, relevant points made in this story about issues facing black Americans today, but the book was so saturated with varying plot lines that it was hard to keep up at times. For instance, the storyline of the hate crime against Imani was raised more questions than it answered. It was not thoroughly concluded or addressed and felt like merely a device used to foreshadow what happens to Izzy toward the end of the book. Although the problems between her parents and the issues of race are meant to be related, it feels like two different stories are being told because they were not successfully melded. Still, this is a book worth reading if you can get past the whiplash that occurs when jumping from one plotline to the next.

Reviewed by Kat Baumgartner on October 25, 2018

by Sharon M. Draper