1995. From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun. New York: Scholastic. ISBN:
Almost fourteen year
old Melanin Sun has always been on the outside, partly due to his dark black skin and partly due to his quietness and slowness
selecting words. Once thought to be dumb, Melanin has been tested and found to be gifted. He has a special writing talent,
and he writes frequently in his notebooks, where his secrets, observations, dreams, and unspoken words dance on the pages.
Never having known his father, Melanin is close to his mother, EC, a loving, accepting woman who is a law student. However, his mother has been overly busy lately. Melanin has
spent little time with her and much time thinking about the girl he likes and hanging out with his two childhood friends,
Ralphael and Sean.
Over time, Melanin
learns what has kept his mother so busy. She tells him that she is a lesbian and is in love with a white woman, Kristen. Nothing
in Melanin’s life has prepared him for his mother’s announcement, and he does not handle it well. His whole world
begins to fall apart. He yells, “You’re a dyke! A dyke! A dyke! You
and that stupid white lady. Nobody wants you. Nobody” (65). Melanin shuts his mother out and stops talking to her, but
he is confused because he still cares for her and needs her. He also is concerned that his friends and neighbors will find
out and laugh at him. Melanin learns to rely on his inner strength, and by the end of the novel, he is more open to his mother
and her girlfriend and less worried about what others think.
This is a well-written,
sensitive novel with strong primary characters. Printed in italics, Melanin’s journal entries are woven throughout the
book, and readers feel that they know Melanin well. Readers sympathize with his shyness and all his confusion after he learns
about his mother. The novel is emotionally honest and does not rely on pat answers. Melanin struggles with his mother’s
gayness, and while things are better at the end, they are not totally resolved. While
Melanin and EC are well-rounded characters, Kristin is somewhat of an enigma. Kristin tries too hard and is almost too good
to be true. Darien Fisher-Duke writes, “Woodson’s prose is lyrical; and with the exception of Mama’s friend
Kristin, her characters are alive” (The ALAN Review, 1995).
Woodson presents many
gay and African American cultural markers. The gay cultural markers include using politically correct and politically
incorrect words such as gay, queer, and dyke; talking about the “spirit” and tone of the relationship between
EC and Kristin; describing a “gay section” of Jones Beach; Kristin’s description of being gay as long as
she remembered; and Kristin’s discussion of being disowned by her family. We also see some neighbors react to EC’s gayness with malicious gossip and fear.
For example, Sean is no longer allowed to hang out with Melanin. Additionally, Woodson addresses the challenges, especially
for Melanin, of EC crossing the color line in her gay relationship. In terms of African American cultural markers, Woodson describes
skin color, hair styles, the neighborhood, school, and day-to-day lifestyle. She does not address language/dialect, music,
will respond to the topic and to Melanin’s struggle to find out who he is in light of his mother’s changes. As
Claudia Morrow notes, teens may not be “drawn in” by the title. “The book will need introduction and perhaps
booktalking” (SLJ, 1995).