Author:  Allison Whittenberg
ISBN: 978-0-385-73869-9
This author had me at "Are."  You know why that is?  Because it was the very first word of one of the very best, poignant, real books I've ever had the privilege of reading.
Life is a wonderful thing because of differences.  I've always believed that.  I also have always hated ignorance.  It's the one thing throughout my whole life that has truly bothered me.  If we lived in a world that was made up of all the same color, race, religion, and culture we'd be stuck in the middle of The Stepford Wives with no way out, yet a lot of people I've met seem to think that would be the right way to live...if we didn't have to put up with those people.  (I still have yet to understand who those people are, by the way.)
When we first meet Hakiam Powell in this book, he's walking into a center that offers tutoring to people who wish to get their GED.  Hakiam has had a horrible life so far.  In Cincinnati he was arrested for shop-lifting, and had a mother who put him into the "system" because she just couldn't handle being a parent.  Hakiam wanted a new start - a fresh start in a new place that would maybe give him a shot at having a better life.  But the one thing Hakiam can't seem to get rid of is the chip on his shoulder. 
He meets up with a young girl who is a tutor at the center.  Her name is Wendy Anderson; a junior in high school, Wendy actually loves her African American heritage.  She wants nothing more than to grow up and become a doctor, and is applying to colleges in order to make her dream a reality.  Her father, a strait-laced accountant, is a man who was born in the projects but pulled himself up by his bootstraps to make a good life for his daughter in a mostly, all-white neighborhood.  He sends her to all-white schools and watches old movies touting the fabulous attributes of model Americans like Cary Grant.  He's absolutely against the people who live in the "hood."  He thinks they're all basically lazy thieves who simply want to live off government checks, do drugs, and be a burden on society, and he wants his daughter to have absolutely no involvement with any of them.  He is so mad that she works down on "that side of town" at the center that he fights with Wendy constantly about it; he even says things like, "I've seen the future, Wendy, and the future is not black."
Hakiam and Wendy come from absolutely opposite stations in life.  Hakiam moved in with his cousin Leesa in order to take care of her baby girl in exchange for free room and board.  Leesa is very much
the stereotype that Wendy's father can't stand.  She won't take care of her daughter, and spends her time partying in the living room while letting her little baby fend for herself.  Hakiam loves the baby.  He wants nothing more than to help the child, but won't get a job, and has decided since life has always been against him - that life will ALWAYS be against him no matter what he does.  In other words, he'd rather sit around and whine instead of trying to change his life.

The City of Brotherly Love offers anything but love to Hakiam.  The social services center won't even give out food for the baby - of course, that's because Mom, Leesa, can't get her act together and bring the right paperwork with her when she goes for the check and the vouchers for free food.
Hakiam has pigeonholed himself into a specific "slot" in life while Wendy has been pigeonholed into a life by her father's prejudice.  She certainly doesn't like Hakiam's sarcasm when they first meet or what he believes in, but Wendy wants nothing more than to live.  For a long time she's been acting like the smart, conservatively dressed librarian, and wants a little adventure - even if it is with a boy who her father says epitomizes the wrong side of the tracks.
This story is at once funny, compelling, dramatic, and in-your-face.  The author explores every type of prejudice - white vs. black, black vs. black, poor vs. rich - everything you can think of, with the glaring point being if we would all just be quiet and actually talk to one another instead of believing all the stereotypes, then maybe minds could be changed.  No, I'm not making a Martin Luther King, Jr. speech here, I'm just reiterating my own anger.  in fact, I'm probably one of those people that Hakiam would've hated immediately because of my color and upbringing.  But if he and I spoke, we'd soon come to realize that absolutely no one's life is perfect.  Even though the Housewives on TV, living in their mansions, would beg to differ with me
I meet up with prejudice everyday, as we all do but simply choose to ignore it or nod our heads in agreement because we're too ignorant to speak the truth.  I moved to a location where good, god-fearing people have told me about those people - the ones who live here and refuse to speak English or get jobs, or jump the border in order to take our government's money. The same words have ALSO been told to me by the other side of the culture spectrum when speaking about the white people here because you know how those people are.  I have to ask, because I really am wondering, if we're ALL "those" people, than aren't we all the same?
This book is a sincere, wonderfully-written look at life, and I am praying that people - all of us, those, them, we, she, - will pick up this book.  Not only is it an extremely interesting, great story, but it actually SAYS something!!  Bravo to the author!  Ms. Whittenberg has spoken to me like no one else has in a long, long time.  I never would have thought that one of my top ten books for 2011 would've been sent to me this soon.  Maybe this will be a fantastic year for literature.