FOR BLACK GIRLS LIKE ME, MARIAMA J. LOCKINGTON. Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR), $9.99 (336p) ISBN-13: 978-0374308049
Publication date: July 30, 2019
Before I’d ever read the books by L.M. Montgomery, I fell in love with the 1985 Anne of Green Gables film adaptation starring Megan Follows. From the opening scene, where Anne is wandering through the woods reciting poetry dramatically from a worn book, to her first love-sick glimpse of her bosom friend, Diana Berry, I was hooked. Here was a misunderstood girl with a huge imagination and heart, searching for her sense of place and belonging in the world. Here was a kindred spirit, a mirror of sorts, one I desperately needed growing up.
I did not grow up a red-headed orphan girl on Prince Edward Island, Canada in the late 19th century. I grew up a Black, transracially adopted girl in the 1980s and 90s, moving all over the United States as my parents pursued their musical careers. My parents are white, as well as one of my three siblings, and everywhere we went my multiracial, nomadic, musical family turned heads. As a kid, this was my norm, and while I often felt othered— both hyper visible and invisible at the same time— I learned to use my imagination and writing to find friendship, connection, and purpose in the world. While Anne and I had little in common racially, we did share one essential longing: The longing for a bosom friend, for another girl who both understood our unique stories as well as the angst of growing up in a world that isn’t always kind or fair.
FOR BLACK GIRLS LIKE ME is a book about transracial adoption, but it is also a book about a bosom friendship. A book that better reflects my own experiences growing up as a Black transracial adoptee, but still speaks to that universal joy of finding a true friend. Makeda is eleven, adopted, and Black, and when in the spring of her 6th grade year her family moves from Baltimore to Albuquerque, she’s forced to leave behind her best friend Lena. Lena like Makeda, is a Black transracial adoptee, and the two have been inseparable since the first day they met. Faced with continuing their friendship long-distance, the two vow to stay connected through a notebook where they write letters to one another and then send it back and forth through the mail every few weeks. While their friendship is tested in new ways Makeda and Lena, much like Anne and Diana, share a bond that is hard to break.
As a child of the 80s and 90s, pen-pals played an important role in my life. I came of age during the AOL dial-up years, pre-cell phones and texting, so writing long-hand letters on Lisa Frank stationary was the jam. Lena and Keda’s friendship is inspired by the few adopted Black girls I grew up exchanging notebooks, letters, and later emails with as we navigated adolescence and our multiracial families. The Black girls I shared my gel pen scribbled secrets, fears, and desires with, who helped me survive the loneliness of growing up. There was nothing better than running to the mailbox to discover a thick envelope with my name on it. Nothing better than holing up in my room or under a blossoming tree to read the latest from a Black girl like me. Nothing better than staying up past my bedtime to scribble my reply, leaving my whole heart on the page. These bosom friendships saved me, guided me, and when the time came, gave me the courage to take my voice off the page and speak my truth into the world.
So, to Leah, Liz, and Jessye: Thank you for being my Diana Berrys, my bosom friends. Thank you for the stories, secrets, and joys you shared with me growing up. FOR BLACK GIRLS LIKE ME exists because of you, because of your friendship, letters, and love. And to all the Makeda’s and Lena’s who are still growing into their voices: I hope FOR BLACK GIRLS LIKE ME can be a mirror to you. That you can see, just as I once saw in Anne of Green Gables, a silver of something true, something brave, and beautiful. That you find a Kindred Spirit among these pages, and that you take your own voice out into the world and let it ring.