Kendra is tired of her Nana’s constrictive rules about the way she dresses and whether she can talk to boys. Her Nana is tired of having to take care of Kendra and hopes to avoid what she couldn’t with her daughter Renee, who is Kendra’s mom. Renee is twenty-eight; Kendra is fourteen—just the age that Renee was when she became Kendra’s mom.
But Renee really isn’t much of a mom to Kendra. She’s left that role for her own mother so that she could pursue her education and her dream—to get out of the Bronxwood projects. And she succeeds mightily, graduating with a Ph.D. from Princeton. Sadly it is at Renee’s graduation ceremony and celebration that Kendra realizes just how little Renee wants to be her mom. Everyone is asking Kendra if she hopes to be just like her ‘big sister’ and end up at Princeton. Big Sister? Isn’t she supposed to move in with Renee and finally escape the hawkeyed Nana?
Kendra, though justifiably feeling abandoned, also defends Renee against the snarky comments of her best friend (and aunt, although she is only a year older then Kendra), Adonna. Adonna is a material girl, and she has her eye on a cute baseball player, Nashawn. But then, he is Kendra’s secret crush as well. Kendra assumes that Nashawn will only like the better-dressed, sexier Adonna and is surprised when Nashawn comes onto her, hot and heavy. But he’s made plans with Adonna, too. Kendra feels that she’s being used. She is so desperate for love and affirmation that she forgets her own worth. How can she get that? The novel reminds us many times that it isn’t coming from Renee.
High school housekeeping: There are many reasons that Kendra will be an engaging read for teens—Kendra’s sense of abandonment, her involvement in a romantic triangle and her need to break out and be herself as well as to be loved with fewer conditions. I’m thinking about whether it’s fair to criticize a book because it turned out not to be the book I wanted it to be. I felt for Kendra as she was played by Nashawn and wanted the novel to show how she comes away from that, perhaps sadder, but certainly wiser. But this is not that book. Despite all its engaging qualities and realistically-portrayed teens and adults, it leans toward formula romance in its resolution. SPOLIER ALERT: I was genuinely surprised at how Kendra immediately (like, within seconds of being followed by Nashawn into dark but public places) agrees to both oral and anal sex to thwart her Nana’s threat of having her virginity checked by a doctor. These scenes are not gratuitous, and I could easily see them happening, just not without more development. And I so wanted Kendra to learn what all people must—others use you for their own purposes, but you’ll try not to see that—you’ll do really dumb things to stay around them because you are out of your mind with the infatuation and lust. And when they tire of using you, you’ll have to pick up the pieces.