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Book Review: The Problem with the Other Side by Kwame Ivery

Publisher’s description

A searing YA debut that follows the joys, complexities, and heartbreaks of an interracial romance between high school sophomores that blossoms during a volatile school election

Uly would rather watch old Westerns with his new girlfriend, Sallie, than get involved in his school’s politics—why focus on the “bad” and “ugly” when his days with Sallie are so good? His older sister Regina feels differently. She is fed up with the way white school-body presidential candidate Leona Walls talks about Black students. Regina decides to run against Leona . . . and convinces Uly to be her campaign manager.

Sallie has no interest in managing her sister’s campaign, but how could she say no? After their parents’ death, Leona is practically her only family. Even after Leona is accused of running a racist campaign that targets the school’s students of color—including Sallie’s boyfriend, Uly—Sallie wants to give her sister the benefit of the doubt. But how long can she ignore the ugly truth behind Leona’s actions? 

Together and apart, Uly and Sallie must navigate sibling loyalty and romantic love as the campaign spirals toward a devastating conclusion. 

CW: Acts of racism and bigotry, racist language, and gun violence are portrayed in this novel.

Amanda’s thoughts

Do you want to read a book with a character you can just totally and completely dislike? Without wondering “do I just think she’s unlikeable because I find her challenging?” and then interrogating what “unlikeable” really means and the weight it carries and how society has tried to train you to view girls and women in certain ways etc? Then settle on down with this book. Leona, sister of main character Sallie, is AWFUL. No redeeming qualities, straight up racist bigot nightmare, horrible human being AWFUL. She maybe wins my Worst Person in YA 2021 award.

This school election is nasty. Uly, who is Black, and Sallie, who is white, are dating. They’re cute—all obsessed with each other and stuff. I like them, even if I find their teen-speak exhausting (listen, if my teen started to say “real talk” or “bacon” or “corduroy” as many times as these teens do, I would have to find a spell to banish those words from his brain). Their sisters, Regina and Leona, are running against each other for student-body president. Leona, who is white, is basically running on a “Make Knight High Great Again” kind of platform. She literally says she wants to get rid of the kids who “have no business being at this school” (pg 50). She means the kids who come from the nearby small and poor towns. Guess what? Most of them are not white. She wants to send them “back where they belong” and she wants to “Turn Knight Back to Day.” Sallie gets roped into being her campaign manager, then Uly gets roped into doing the same with his sister. Plenty of students support Leona and her racism, but plenty are disgusted. And then there’s Sallie. Leona is nearly her only family (both birth parents are dead and they live with their stepmother) and Sallie just cannot wrap her mind around the fact that her sister is super duper racist. As you might imagine, tension arises between Uly and Sallie. And things get way, WAY out of control at school. There’s vandalism, confederate flags, attacks, hateful comments, transphobia, sexism, racism, white supremacy, and violence. In fact, page one of this book shows us a newspaper headline stating two dead on school inauguration day. So you know that despite the cute romance, this is not in any way going to be a light book or an easy read. It’s serious and sad and actually pretty devastating.

I look forward to more from Ivery. He’s got a good ear for realistic teen dialogue (even if I now never, ever want to hear the words “bacon” or “corduroy” in any context) and created interesting characters. I think the summary of the book makes it pretty clear what you’re going to get—this isn’t a romantic comedy or even just a romance. It’s a deep look at the extremes that have cropped up in the United States and shows how they affect teens, high school politics, and day-to-day life. Hand this book to readers ready for a heavy read with plenty of tragedy.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781641292054
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 09/07/2021
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years