This is not your school's summer reading list

Who Am I Without Him? Short Stories About Girls and the Boys in Their Lives

Who Am I Without Him?
By Sharon G. Flake
Upper middle grade and young adult
Ages 12 and up, Grades 6-12
Hyperion 2004
ISBN: 978-1423103837
additional formats: e-book
Coretta Scott King Author Honor

This collection of short stories is an older title (2004), but I’m so grateful that it was brought to my attention by our friends at The Open Book Foundation in Washington D.C.

Sharon Flake’s book is a collection of girls’ voices that spans everything from the marginalized and violent to the girl-next-door. In every case, we have a girl in relationship with a young man, and as we all know, that can mean drama. Girls will see themselves in these stories and the thoughtless (and even dangerous) boys who’ll sometimes cross their paths. The possibilities for conversation in a classroom, in a book club, and among friends are endless. How important are boys to your sense of self? What should you be willing to give away if anything at all? What does a respectful relationship look like when you’re fourteen? What are your responsibilities in a relationship?

I love this collection because it offers no easy answers, only the platform for good conversation. The characters (adults included) are layered, and their strengths and weaknesses make them hard to judge easily as victims or victimizers. I have to give a gold star for the hilarious “Girl, Didn’t I Say I Don’t Write Letters” about a forced pen-pal relationship between Jaquel and Devita Mae. But I’d run out of gold stars on this collection. I found something to love about virtually every tale here. Church girls stalking boys at a schoolyard behind their parents’ backs. Girls taking advantage of the intellectually disabled. Girls willing to fistfight “for their man.” Girls who want white boys. The options are dizzying and wonderful. MM

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