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A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
Inside A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy

Review: The Latte Rebellion

The Latte Rebellion by Sarah Jamila Stevenson. Flux. 2011. Review copy from ALA.flux 194x300 Review: The Latte Rebellion Book website.

The Plot: The Latte Rebellion doesn’t start as a rebellion. Yes, Asha and her friend Carey got annoyed at a classmate’s casual comments about Asha being a “towel head” and being “Miss Barely Asian.” In a caffeine induced bout of creativity, they come up with the “Latte Rebellion,” for “the cause of brown people everywhere.” In rebellion against what? Against both racism and the insistence of putting people into specific boxes. Asha’s mother is Indian, her father is Mexican-Irish, so what box should she check on her college applications?

What really drives Asha and Carey to create and market a ”Latte Rebellion” T-shirts is the desire to make money for a post-High School vacation. A Mexican cruise? New York City? London? Asha’s dream destination changes as more shirts are sold.

Along the way, Asha is surprised how people are impacted and inspired by her Latte Rebellion and it slowly becomes real, an actual club whose purpose is to raise awareness of mixed-race peoples.

The Good: The capitalist part of me adores that the Latte Rebellion starts as a way to raise money. AWESOME. And practically no one blinks an eye at Asha’s and Carey’s use of social awareness and concerns to make money for a vacation. They talk about marketing and budgets and how this can be spun for college applications and everyone agrees. It’s not just Asha; when she meets hot guy Thad, a college student who wants to help create community clinics in poor and rural areas, he says “I just think people really need this kind of thing, and Greg and I have some good ideas. We think we could manage to make a living off it.” I am dead serious when I say how much I love this combination of idealism and practicality, of wanting to do good but knowing one still has to pay the rent.

I also love how Asha doesn’t intend to do anything big or raise society’s awareness. Part of the story is Asha’s own awareness being raised as the book goes along, of putting words to her emotions and realizing the need for action. I like this because too many times in teen books, it starts with the main character already having Strongly Held Ideals and Acting On Them. Here, we get to see Asha’s growth and progression done in a very natural, realistic way. Towards the end of the book, Asha reflects “I didn’t know what I was trying to say.” The Latte Rebellion is about Asha figuring out what she wants to say, what she thinks, how to say it.

Readers who like books with strong, positive parents will like Asha’s parents. They share warm moments (dinners, watching movies) and also push her to achieve.

The friendship of Asha and Carey fascinates me, in part because of what the reader observes and what Asha doesn’t understand. High school seniors, Asha sees the two of them as sharing everything and agreeing with each other about everything. Asha sometimes acts before consulting with Carey, assuming that Carey shares her beliefs. When Carey rejects some of Asha’s positions or goals (for example, what type of involvement to have in the expanding Latte Rebellion movement), Asha takes it as a personal rejection rather than realizing that Carey is an individual with her own interests and goals.

Disclaimer: Sarah blogs at Finding Wonderland. We’ve worked together online on such things as the Summer & Winter Blog Blast Tours. In person, we shared a room at KidlitCon 10.

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About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is lizzy.burns@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. Liz, thanks so much for the review! There have been a few mixed reactions (in reviews) about the fact that Asha and Carey start with the goal of raising money, and I enjoyed reading your take on that.

  2. Jen Robinson says:

    I didn’t think to mention it in my review, but I agree with Liz 100% on the “yay Capitalism” response to the book. Liz says: “I love this combination of idealism and practicality, of wanting to do good but knowing one still has to pay the rent.” Me, too!

    It’s funny, though, I didn’t think of the portrayal of Asha’s parents as quite as positive as you did, Liz. I think because my own parents were very low-key, and Asha’s parents terrified me. ;-)

  3. BookMoot says:

    Have not read it yet but it occurs to me that making money is a subject that is a special focus of teens as they are finally old enough to find jobs to pay for their car insurance, homecoming dances and proms as well as entertainment and clothes. Teens are also so filled with idealism about social and political causes. This seems like a natural and realistic pairing.

    Also, what a terrific way to raise awareness in readers about the challenges our kids face when we try to “box” them in.

  4. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    Sarah, thanks!

    Jen, what I liked about Asha’s parents is they were intense without being all Tiger Mom. Strict, perhaps a bit over-controlling for a senior, but clearly loving her, wanting the best, and not being abusive. Particularly the last trait isn’t usually present in portrayals of strict parenting in YA novels. Still, within those guidelines, Asha had freedom. Around the time I was reading this I read a throwaway comment (by an actor? celebrity? I’m not sure) about how no teen wants to watch movies with their parents. And Asha, as I recall, did. Some teens do. So that struck a positive cord with me.

    Book Moot, I’m ever-practical, so it just seems if we say only those who don’t have to worry about money can pursue causes we are left with either those who are well off or those whose living ascetic is practically monastic. Why not have a cause and be able to go to London? And in terms of “boxing in”, one of the listservs I lurk at just had one of their semi annual “who has the right to write a story” discussions and I kept on thinking of Asha, and this book, and what Asha would think about being told what stories she or her friends could, couldn’t, should, shouldn’t, write.

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