“Malena Rosario is starting to believe that catastrophes come in threes. First, Hurricane Maria destroyed her home, taking her unbreakable spirit with it. Second, she and her mother are now stuck in Florida, which is nothing like her beloved Puerto Rico. And third, when she goes to school bra-less after a bad sunburn and is humiliated by the school administration into covering up, she feels like she has no choice but to comply.
Ruby McAllister has a reputation as her school’s outspoken feminist rebel. But back in Seattle, she lived under her sister’s shadow. Now her sister is teaching in underprivileged communities, and she’s in a Florida high school, unsure of what to do with her future, or if she’s even capable making a difference in the world. So when Ruby notices the new girl is being forced to cover up her chest, she is not willing to keep quiet about it.
Neither Malena nor Ruby expected to be the leaders of the school’s dress code rebellion. But the girls will have to face their own insecurities, biases, and privileges, and the ups and downs in their newfound friendship, if they want to stand up for their ideals and–ultimately–for themselves.”
Someone recommended Does My Body Offend You? (Amazon) to me and I’m so glad they did. I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy from NetGalley and Alfred A. Knopf publishers in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
I’ve got three tween/teen daughters and I can tell you that with my oldest, we had an “incident” at school her freshman year. She was wearing a crop top underneath a jean jacket and was sent down to the office to call me and bring her another shirt because a teacher saw her in the hall and thought she was revealing too much skin. Boy, was I ticked! However, what Malena goes through in this book was even worse. With a sunburned back, she can’t wear a bra without pain, so her mom gives her a drapey tunic to cover herself. Problem is, Maria is large-chested, and one of the female teachers reports her, saying it made her uncomfortable. The administration’s solutions: taping panty liners across Maria’s nipples so they don’t show through her shirt. Unbelievable! But, in fact, based on true events going on across this country over the past few years. Why, even in eighth grade back in 1986, I got to school and changed into my friend’s miniskirt for the day, which turned out to be a few hours before I was called down to the office and asked to change because I was taller than most everyone and the “6th grade boys” might try looking up my skirt. Shame and embarrassment followed, and I wondered why the rich lawyer’s shorter-than-me daughter got to wear a miniskirt even shorter than what I had on. Was it because she was shorter, or because her dad was more influential? I didn’t have the backbone to find out then, but I’ve always wondered.
Ruby, a privileged white teen, finds out about Malena’s plight and is driven to action. You see, she comes from a family of activists, especially her much older sister, in whose shadow she constantly compares herself. She decides to befriend Malena and encourages her to protest the school’s gender-biased dress code.
What follows is similar to what countless other young ladies have experienced when they get dress coded at school. The administration digs in their heels, some of the parents jump in to help, while others wish the kids would leave well enough alone. The threat of a suspension going on their permanent record is real. But the kids are also learning valuable life skills, like speaking out for injustice, how to organize a peaceful protest, and in general learning to find their own voice.
What I really liked about Does My Body Offend You? is the fact that these girls are still teens, they don’t have it all figured out, and they make mistakes. Sometimes, they’re little mistakes, other times, they are gigantic. Their friends and elders help them learn and grow with each step they take. And their friendship has it’s ups and downs. Malena learns to be the confident young lady she once was in Puerto Rico, before Hurricane Maria wiped out the island and left her and her mom in Florida for the foreseeable future. Ruby learns that she’s the very definition of white privilege, and just because she’s not afraid to speak up, maybe it’s not her story to tell.
I very much enjoyed this story told in alternating chapters from each girl’s point of view. I particularly enjoyed learning more about the Latina experience in America. I also appreciate the author’s note and resource section for young ladies interested in getting involved with a variety of activist organizations.
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