Watch Us Rise by Renée Watson and Ellen Hagan Book Review

I can’t tell you all how badly I wanted to love this book, I really did, but it turned out to be a huge disappointment.

ughNow, the idea for this book is excellent. You have two girls who start a school blog where they write essays and poems regarding their struggles while highlighting important women along the way because they felt the clubs they belonged to were stifling their voices. Add in the fact that conflict ensues surrounding this blog because the school administration decides its contents are not suitable and incite conversations they don’t want to be having around the school with a dash of these girls taking a stand against said administration and it sounds incredibly inspiring. Yes to speaking out and making our voices heard! However, the execution of this idea wasn’t carried out well.

For starters, the type of feminism shown in this book often comes across as the stereotypical idea of what a feminist is. An image that I find rather damaging to what feminists and feminism is and what it does. Get this book into the population of women and men who are self-proclaimed anti-feminists and they’d have field day with it. It often felt like it was aggressive in the way that it presented the ideas and entirely preachy. I get that it was aiming to get the message across, but it really should’ve been done with a different approach.

My biggest problem with this book, however, is the character of Chelsea. Chelsea is a character who proclaims to be a feminist who is passionate about what she stands for and what she fights for. Yet she’s incredibly problematic and as most problematic people, she’s unaware of it. She shames those who like and do things that are deemed “girly” because you know, she’s ~not like the other girls~ she’s completely oblivious to the struggles her BEST FRIEND faces, she at one point sees a billboard about plastic surgery and while yes, the image presented on it makes you want to do an eye roll, what is said afterwards feels like shaming those who choose to undergo plastic surgery. She has this whole thing about how liking princesses is problematic and this is something that really fired me up because I love the Disney princesses and I know that many women and girls out there love them for the positive qualities that they possess. This whole narrative about how the princesses are awful is something that I am tired of at this point. Quite frankly the only princesses that land in that spectrum to me are Snow White, a little dash of Ariel, and Aurora (Sleeping Beauty). Cinderella kind, loving, and hopeful doesn’t go to that ball to marry a prince. She goes because she wants to have fun. The bonus is she gets someone who loves her the way she deserves. Look at Tiana, Rapunzel, Jasmine, Moana, Elsa, my girl General Organa, etc. and you will find women who are strong independent characters, who might find a man in their journey, but are not defined by them. Is there still work to be done in regards to inclusivity and diversity amongst them? HELL YES, but Chelsea was acting as if liking these characters meant you didn’t see the flaws that they have. Her character overall was just awful and every time I saw one of her chapters come up I had to take a moment before going into it.

While Chelsea is by far the biggest problem of this book, my second problem was the fact that Jasmine (who had real struggles, was levelheaded, and had a much more appealing personality) kept having her voice muffled by Chelsea’s idiocies. Jasmine should’ve been at the forefront of this story. She should’ve been the louder voice and yet the author chose to give it to Chelsea, who quite frankly was an incredibly self-centered privileged character with struggles that didn’t compare to Jasmine’s. It is maddening to me that the white character with the easier life was more at the forefront of it all than the black character who was not only dealing with racism at school, but also dealing with body shaming and a dying father. Had the author given more time to Jasmine this book would’ve worked better.

It was just disheartening to read this book. I expected so much more and I’m mad that the potential was there and not done right. The issues are all important and are something that society really does need to work on, but the delivery of this book was just not it. I do commend the authors for being so inclusive about the poets, authors, and artists that they chose to highlight through the book. And also for adding compilations of sources regarding resources for those who wish to look into activism, poets, books, blogs and such for anyone who wants to learn more. That was a nice surprise after the disaster that was this book.

This ended up being a 2 star read and it is entirely thanks to Jasmine’s character.

3 thoughts on “Watch Us Rise by Renée Watson and Ellen Hagan Book Review

    1. Agree with it being harmful! I often felt the way they were getting the message across aligned with the stereotype that anti-feminists have of feminists. I didn’t feel that was about Jasmine, though I do think she’d get annoying at times too. My main issue was Chelsea’s characterization.

      Liked by 1 person

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