Monday, January 24, 2022

ARC Review: Required Reading for the Disenfranchised Freshmen by Kristen R. Lee

Title: Required Reading for the Disenfranchised Freshmen
Author: Kristen R. Lee
Publication Date: February 1, 2022
Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers
Pages: 336
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//I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review//

A striking debut novel about racism on elite college campuses. Fans of Dear White People will embrace this activist-centered contemporary novel about a college freshman grappling with the challenges of attending an elite university with a disturbing racist history--that may not be as distant as it seems.

Savannah Howard sacrificed her high school social life to make sure she got into a top college. Her sites were set on an HBCU, but when she is accepted to the ivy-covered walls of Wooddale University on a full ride, how can she say no?

Wooddale is far from the perfectly manicured community it sells on its brochures, though. Savannah has barely unpacked before she comes face-to-face with microagressions stemming from racism and elitism. Then, Clive Wilmington's statue is vandalized with blackface. The prime suspect? Lucas Cunningham, Wooddale's most popular student and son to a local prominent family. Soon, Savannah is unearthing the hidden secrets of Wooddale's racist history. But what's the price for standing up for what is right? And will telling the truth about Wooddale's past cost Savannah her own future?

A stunning, challenging, and timely debut about racism and privilege on college campuses.

I recently read Required Reading for the Disenfranchised Freshman by Kristin Lee. This book was PHENOMENAL. I can’t believe it’s Lee’s debut novel! I’m not even sure I can put all of my thoughts and feelings into words, but I’ll try.

Savannah Howard sacrificed the fun high school experience her peers took advantage of to study. Her mom pushed her to make sure she’d get out of their neighborhood, go to an Ivy League Institution, and make a better life for both herself and her mom. Savannah wanted to go to a HBCU in lieu of Wooddale University, where she received a full scholastic scholarship, but it was her mom’s dream for her to go to Wooddale and she didn’t want to disappoint her. On campus, Savannah was one of the only black people around. There were less than 100 black students. When she witnessed racism in the form of a disgusting caricature spray painted on the statue of Clive Washington, she quickly finds herself where she never thought she’d be: an activist fighting for what’s right.

People think that just because black people use AAVE, or Ebonics as ignorant, backwards, and racist people prefer, we’re unintelligent. Savannah is a straight A student who got a scholarship to a prestigious college. Told in first person, we experience Savannah’s code switch. In her head, she speaks the way she speaks around her black friends and family but when speaking to the white and entitled students she goes to school with and that she encounters in real life, she speaks in the only grammar they can comprehend - “proper” American English.

This book was so real that I honestly forgot I was even reading a book. It felt like I personally was experiencing the micro aggressions, the racism, and the hatred that Savannah and her friends received from a popular fraternity, and soon the whole school.

This was an emotional book and that’s putting it lightly. It is very exhausting to be black and to constantly deal with the ingrained racism that people display towards us. The worst ones are those who don’t even know they’re being racist and hateful. It’s so ingrained in them that it’s normal.

Lee also makes a statement about white performative activists that I think was extremely important. They’re okay cheering us on from the sidelines hiding behind they’re friends, and they’re okay supporting us in private, but that’s it. Going the distance.

“White folks don't ever get that we are the ones at risk. We got the most to lose.”

I’ve already pre-ordered this book and I’m so excited for a physical copy. This book was absolutely everything I didn’t know I needed and it’s a REALLY important book for teenagers, especially black teenagers, to read. I have a feeling that this book will be considered a classic in the future.