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“I don’t want to sound like a Hallmark card or anything, but I think the only thing that gets rid of hate is love,” Isabella. –Blended
by Sharon M. Draper
AR Test, Diverse Characters
Eleven-year-old Isabella feels like she’s being pulled in two. Her divorced parents fight over everything! Her whole life is divided. Her time is divided between her parents—every other week, she has to change houses, change rules, change names, and even change identities.
Isabella’s father is black, and her mother is white. She isn’t sure where she fits. After all, if you’re only seen as half of this and half of that, how can you ever feel whole?
Each chapter of Blended jumps between Mom’s week, Dad’s week, and exchange day. This allows the reader to understand how her parents’ divorce affects Isabella’s daily life. While Isabella is trying to navigate between her two parents, she also has to deal with her parents’ live-in partners. The story portrays the headaches caused by squabbling parents and having two homes. In addition, having a white mom and a black father causes confusion. For example, Isabella isn’t sure how to fill out school forms. She tells her mom, “Well, I don’t answer ‘other,’ because that’s like being nothing, like maybe I could be Martian or something. I’m not nothing. I am something. I am somebody.”
Blended also explores racism—both intentional and unintentional. Several times throughout the story, someone says a hurtful comment about Isabella’s race; however, the speaker intended the statement to be a compliment. Equally important is the time Isabella spends in English; the class discusses recent school protests. Some students are hoping that “walking out of school can help change gun laws and stuff.” As part of an assignment, Isabella takes a poem written by an African American author and writes her own version of the poem. This allows the reader to further understand Isabella’s feelings.
The story hits on difficult topics of racism and identity confusion by focusing on Isabella, which allows the reader to understand her feelings. Middle-grade readers will relate to Isabella, who is trying to understand herself and the world around her. Blended deals with relevant conflicts in today’s world. One instance is when Isabella is shot by a police officer; the scene will evoke a strong emotional response because readers will understand Isabella’s fear, confusion, and pain. While the story shows an example of police brutality, it avoids excessive criticism of the police.
While Blended teaches essential life lessons, the plot jumps from topic to topic and the parent drama becomes tedious. Despite this, the story is fast-paced and shows many perspectives. In the end, Isabella begins to understand the importance of speaking up. The story doesn’t end with a cheerful, happy event. Instead, it acknowledges Isabella’s pain and her hope for a better future. Readers who would like to read more about racial inequality and the Black Lives Matter movement should also read A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée.
- In English, the class talked about what “lynched” means. One boy says, “They show that [a lynch] in cowboy movies all the time. No big deal.” Later someone puts a noose in Imani’s locker. “Inside her locker, dangling from the coat hook, is a thick rope, the kind we use in the gym. It’s knotted and tied round and round at the top. The bottom of it is looped.”
- Isabella’s mother’s boyfriend says his dad would “beat the crap outta me.”
- Darren gives Isabella a ride to her piano recital. On the way, he gets pulled over by the police. Darren is confused when the police officer “gives the window another wallop.” When Darren opens the door, “he’s yanked right off his seat. He nearly falls, but a cop grabs his arm. Darren thrusts his other arm up in the air… The back door is flung open and someone grabs me [Isabella], roughly, and pulls me out—literally pulls me out of the car.”
- When Darren and Isabella are pulled out of the car, the police put Darren on the ground and restrain him. Isabella tries to see Darren. “I look around for him and see instead a female officer approaching me with her gun out. It is aimed at me. A gun is aimed at my head! …Why is she pointing that gun and I want her to put it down and Darren is standing again he’s bleeding… Darren is bleeding, and his arms are pulled behind his back because he actually is in handcuffs.”
- At one point, Isabella thinks that her parents are going to be worried that she’s late for her recital. She reaches into her pocket for a cell phone. “The lady officer yells, ‘Gun! Gun!’ Every point of light I’ve ever known explodes at the moment… I collapse to the ground. The last thing I remember hearing are Darren’s hoarse screams and a male voice shouting, ‘Shots fired! Shots fired! Send emergency medical crews ASAP.’” The scene is described over eight pages.
- After Isabella is shot, she hits the ground. “I think my head bounces. The back of it hurts so bad… Confused voices surround me… Why is my arm on fire? And my head! Oh, my head! It hurts so bad.” This part of the scene is described over three pages.
Drugs and Alcohol
- Isabella’s mother’s boyfriend says that his father “loved him some liquor, and he’d have his friends over every Saturday for whiskey and whatever. After they’d had two or three drinks…or more, they’d really relax and start talking smack.”
- While in the hospital a nurse gives Isabella ibuprofen.
- Isabella says that the piano at her father’s house is “freakin’ fierce.”
- During a class discussion about lynches, one girl gets “pissed off.”
- Someone calls a classmate an idiot twice.
- “OMG” is used as an exclamation three times.
- Isabella freaks out and runs from her parents. Later, she tells her friend, “I probably scared the poop out of them.”
- Heck is used twice. When a man bumps into Darren, Darren says, “What the heck?”
- When Isabella is in the hospital, a nurse sees her family “holding hands. And praying at one point.”
- A classmate texts Isabella, “I prayed for you and your fam.”