Thursday, March 15, 2012

Novel Homeschoolers: ‘Amy HodgePodge: All Mixed Up!’

It’s about time I got around to reviewing this book. Maybe a year or so ago, I stumbled across the Amy HodgePodge children’s book series (2008) while browsing the gift shop at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. The cover clearly advertised what book one was about: a black girl and a white girl picking on a mixed girl. Gee, where was stuff like this when I was eight?

Multiethnic and tri-racial, shy Amy Hodges has to adjust as both the new girl in town and as an ex-homeschooler now attending Emerson Charter School. Unlike Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) in Mean Girls (2004), Amy is shunned by her more popular classmates for looking a bit strange. With the help of some cool new friends – other strange-looking outcasts – Amy builds self-confidence.

The outcast’s experience is something of a theme with black author Kim Wayans, who also played the part of a concerned religious mother in the drama Pariah (2011), a story about the “coming out” of a lesbian teen. It’s unclear whether Wayans work at all reflects her personal experiences, reactions to her interracial marriage with white co-author Kevin Knotts.

From a homeschooling perspective, too much about the story was left unsaid. Amy insists on attending school, but it’s never made clear why. Feelings of claustrophobia? Desire to socialize with kids her age? Boredom? We’re never told. And I was puzzled as to why her parents chose to homeschool in the first place. I was purposely sheltered from the cruel racist world, and I’ve met many mixed kids who’ve voiced opinion that they wish they’d been home educated as well. If this was Amy’s parents’ reason, I would’ve expected them to be more sensitive to the bullying and isolation she experienced at school.

From a race perspective, it was nice that Amy presents the readers with details about her family in such a matter-of-fact way. That’s how I remember life being for me: I was normal, the default setting. It was the other kids who were abnormal, until I was informed otherwise, as Amy is by her rude classmates. It’s rather difficult to believe that such a racially-integrated crowd could be so intolerant. Back in the 1980s, I was snubbed by more racially-homogenous groups of black, white, and Hispanic kids. Amy of the 21st century is snubbed by a blond singer and her backup, one black girl and one Asian girl. Yes, there are people of every race who decry miscegenation but promote living together as God’s children in harmony, but that’s the kind of attitude that I’ve found more often in adults. Racially-aware children tend to gravitate towards those who are more like themselves, and that means mixed kids often have an advantage over the pure bred “Other.”

Despite being teased, Amy cherishes her heritage. This is what I appreciated most about All Mixed Up!: the heroine doesn’t feel as though she has to choose from among a long list of possible identities. She’s comfortable being Japanese, Korean, African American, and white…all at the same time. Unfortunately, in the actual narrative, her English Hodges-ness takes a back seat. The authors never mention her paternal grandfather or white ethnic heritage, which is likely also mixed. However, I’ll postpone judgment on that point since I haven’t read the rest of the series.