Sellout

by Ebony Joy Wilkins

Sellout by Ebony Joy Wilkins

NaTasha has a wonderful life in affluent Adams Park: she’s popular, wealthy, and being the only African American in her school has never even crossed her mind. So when she spends the summer with her spitfire grandmother, Tilly, volunteering at a teen crisis center for troubled girls in the Bronx, she doubts herself. The girls at Amber’s Place are rough, streetwise, sure of themselves, and they wield their secrets like knives. They hate NaTasha. They call her a sellout. She could run back to Adams Park, and everything would go back to normal. But NaTasha stands her ground and discovers that friendship, love, and self-discovery have been waiting for her all along.

Sellout is real, honest, and bold—an unforgettable debut.”
—Coe Booth, author of Tyrell and Kendra

Sellout by Ebony Joy Wilkins

NaTasha has a wonderful life in affluent Adams Park: she’s popular, wealthy, and being the only African American in her school has never even crossed her mind. So when she spends the summer with her spitfire grandmother, Tilly, volunteering at a teen crisis center for troubled girls in the Bronx, she doubts herself. The girls at Amber’s Place are rough, streetwise, sure of themselves, and they wield their secrets like knives. They hate NaTasha. They call her a sellout. She could run back to Adams Park, and everything would go back to normal. But NaTasha stands her ground and discovers that friendship, love, and self-discovery have been waiting for her all along.

Sellout is real, honest, and bold—an unforgettable debut.”
—Coe Booth, author of Tyrell and Kendra

Discussion questions about the book

1. How do you feel about leaving home for a few weeks for a change of environment? If you have had that experience, was it anything like NaTasha’s experience in Harlem? If you had the option to travel, where would you go?
2. Tilly was an important part of NaTasha’s life. The old saying, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ rang true in the Jennings family. How true is this saying in our society today? Is it even relevant anymore? How do you feel Tilly motivated and shaped NaTasha’s decision making during her time away from home?
3. NaTasha met a myriad of people during her travel to the city. Which friendships were healthy and which were not? How do you define healthy relationships? How can we prevent and protect ourselves from developing unhealthy relationships?
4. All of the women in NaTasha’s family volunteered at Amber’s Place. Volunteering with teens is one way to give back, but there are many! In what ways do you give back to your own community? How can you encourage others to join you?
5. If you wanted to write a story about your years in high school, what would your story look like? Would you write about yourself or someone close to you? What message would you like to send to your readers?

Reviews

SELLOUT by Ebony Joy Wilkins: NaTasha has well-meaning parents and a supportive best friend, so being nearly the only African-American teen at school only occasionally gives her problems. Her grandmother Tilly has misgivings, however, and when she witnesses NaTasha’s difficulties with a dance recital, she insists on taking her back to Harlem to volunteer at Amber’s Place, a program for troubled girls. It’s not easy for NaTasha to fit in: The others criticize her speech and clothes and nickname her “Sellout.” Tilly will not let her quit, though, and she gradually connects with the girls. With an important project and a first date, NaTasha’s visit becomes richer than her life back home. Details she learns about her grandmother and mother provide insight as she develops a stronger sense of herself. Here is the normal teen coming-of-age story placed in a context of race and class. NaTasha’s doubts about her mother’s focus on shopping and appearances successfully present a character open to the change she experiences. Some at the center are predictable tough-girl characters, but the dialogue is authentic, and NaTasha’s growth feels right. (Fiction. 12 & up)
-Kirkus Reviews – June 15, 2010

Sellout, Ebony Joy Wilkins, Scholastic Press, $17.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-545-10928-4: As an African-American, NaTasha is in the minority in her New Jersey suburb, but her social situation changes drastically and presents a set of new challenges when she spends several weeks with her grandmother, Tilly, in Harlem. Tilly is a well-crafted, fiery character who volunteers at Amber’s Place, a teen crisis center. She brings NaTasha with her in hopes of broadening her experience, though NaTasha feels out of her league (“I didn’t belong here, among these girls…. Their stories were straight from the talk shows, stories that weren’t even real”). A trio of aggressive, cliquey girls resent NaTasha for her perceived snobbery, and over the course of the novel, all the girls are forced to release their preconceived notions about each other, face their fears, and work together in order to plan a graduation/ recognition ceremony. NaTasha has a tendency to spell out every detail of what she’s thinking or going through, but it’s rewarding to watch her growth, as she recognizes her own problems (at one point confessing she wishes she weren’t black), while debut author Wilkins explores the building of confidence, morals, and survival skills. Ages 12–up. (July)
-Publishers Weekly- July 12, 2010

WILKINS, Ebony Joy. Sellout. 267p. CIP. Scholastic. 2010. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-545-10928-4. LC 2009020522: Gr 7-10–This warm if message-heavy novel about race, fitting in, and finding oneself stars high school freshman NaTasha, an insecure African American who attends a snooty white school in suburban New Jersey . Wanting to maintain her popularity with her white friends, particularly Heather, NaTasha painstakingly irons her hair and forces herself to learn ballet. NaTasha spends the summer in Harlem with her grandmother, Tilly, who volunteers at a crisis center in the Bronx . Initially, Tash feels she has little in common with these rough girls whose struggles include addiction, abuse, self-destructive behavior, pregnancy, and prison. They are nasty to NaTasha, considering her a snobby “sellout.” At the center of the story is Tilly, a strong, opinionated community pillar whose loving but firm influence inspires her granddaughter even as NaTasha struggles to make sense of the Amber’s Place girls’ hostility, Heather’s betrayals, and the attentions of two intriguing neighbor boys. Some elements of the story tie up too easily–NaTasha’s greatest tormentors warm up to her a bit too quickly to be believed–but the message of staying true to oneself shines through. – Megan Honig , New York Public Library
-School Library Journal – August 2010

Click to read more reviews
Sellout was definitely one of my favorite books -I absolutely loved it. It was about NaTasha, an insecure black girl, who attends a snooty white school in suburban New Jersey. Wanting to maintain her popularity with her white friends, particularly Heather, NaTasha painstakingly irons her hair and forces herself to learn ballet. NaTasha spends the summer in Harlem with her grandmother, Tilly, who volunteers at a crisis center in the Bronx. Initially, Tash feels she has little in common with these rough girls whose struggles include addiction, abuse, self-destructive behavior, pregnancy, and prison. They are nasty to NaTasha, considering her a snobby “sellout.” At the center of the story is Tilly, a strong, opinionated community pillar whose loving but firm influence inspires her granddaughter even as NaTasha struggles to make sense of the Amber’s Place girls’ hostility, Heather’s betrayals. Then she meets Amir, Tilly’s friend at the store, and Khalik, a childhood friend. Which one will she choose? Join Natasha on a journey of finding herself and actually loving her self, while also surviving drama. I really look forward to another book by Ebony Joy Wilkins.
– Ari Bell, Urban Teens Read

TeensReadtoo.com, “Gold Award” review, August 2010: Sellout is an excellent debut novel that takes a deeper look into finding yourself and finding what your roots really mean. It’s not your cliche PoC-Overcoming-Prejudice story, and is an excellent addition to the YA books of 2010. Ebony Joy Wilkins did a wonderful job with this book, and I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next.
– R.J. Jacobs, Teens Read Too

I was on a roller coaster with NaTasha. I was worried for her, although I knew she was learning lessons. Ebony, this book was excellent not only for girls, but women like us who can still relate and can see the deeper meaning of the book.
– Rhasha Hoosier, author of Revealing & Healing: Three Women’s Stories of Survival

As you can imagine, NaTasha and the girls are polar opposites. Save for a few girls, she immediately clashes with them. And as you can imagine, there are life lessons that NaTasha learns from her summer in Harlem. Fortunately, Wilkins isn’t preachy in the least; this is a well-crafted story that will appeal to a wide variety of girls. This is an excellent debut novel. NaTasha is an honestly written character. Teens need stories like this; stories that reflect a broad perspective of African-American teenage life. Cannot wait to see what Wilkins has in store for us next.
– Jennifer Schultz, Kiddosphere

I related to this book a lot, and personally connected with NaTasha. I actually know what it feels like to be the only black girl in a situation, especially in a dance class. Being the only black in a class full of white girls. Trying so hard to fit in, but fitting in isn’t always the best thing. Not knowing who you are has a huge impact on how you act and who you surround yourself with.
-Shayla D. Berkeley, MI

I loved this book! It’s one of those books that you can read over and over again
-Brittany H.

After reading your book, I was blown away for many reasons. I am an African American female who was in a similar situation. Now that I am grown and I look at my daughter and my little cousins I pray they do not have the same issues that I have. So my goal is to get together with them… and talk about the issues that they are dealing with. I wish somebody would have sat down with me when I was younger and now I have an opportunity of doing so. I wanted to thank you for sharing your passion with us
-Carmen D. Cleveland, OH

We recently received a copy of your book Sellout in a book order. After reading the blurb on the back I decided it would be the next book I read and reviewed. To be perfectly honest I thought it would be a typical young adult novel that I would read and review. I was so wrong. I’ve seen so many young people struggle to fit in and go through situations similar to NaTasha. It broke my heart, in a good way, to read about NaTasha and the girls she meets at Amber’s Place. Thank you so much for an excellent book. I intend to buy more copies and “push” it to all the students here at Southwest High School. I’ve posted on my book review blog, tweeted about it, and am now going to go and recommend this book to the staff at my school as well as the librarians that subscribe to Calib, the California School Library Association’s listserve. Thank you again for such an excellent book. I look forward to reading more of your work
-David B. El Centro, CA

I recently finished your book Sellout and I thought the book was PHENOMENAL! I could really relate to many of the topics and issues NaTasha feels in the story because I have had the experience of being the only black person in certain sports and clubs in school. Thanks for writing such a great book. I can’t wait for your next book to come out!
– Sharita J.

This isn’t the first book I’ve read where the main character is not white. Far from it. It’s just refreshing sometimes, to get another perspective. There’s a lot to be learned from this book, not just about writing, but about life.
-Beth H.

I’ve been recommending the book to all the kids I know as well as teachers for their reading lists. What you’ve created is fantastic. I wish when I was growing up I got to read books like yours with brown girls like me within the pages.
– Dhonielle C., teenwritersblock.com

Thank you so much for having written Sellout. I just finished reading it which took me less than two days… I just could’t stop reading and was encouraged by the fact that I understood not only the contents, but also almost every single word. I’m very touched by the story and the development of the young characters. I could recognize some of the impressions I got from NYC. Besides the black-and-white-theme I’m sure almost everyone shares the “I don’t like myself”-story all over the world. I’m happy I bought and read the book and looking forward to get it signed by you one day!
– Carola B., Germany

It’s mostly about self discovery and learning about difficult relationships. I think my favorite parts of this book are when NaTasha is hanging out with the boys in the neighborhood because they felt so easy and normal. It’s a real picture of what life can be like in the inner city… and it’s done well. I think it will also resonate for people who don’t actively live in a place like this. It gives you a snapshot of a new lifestyle… a new perspective on the world. I think those that enjoy Coe Booth’s books would definitely love this one. I will be recommending this book, for sure. I look forward to more from her.
– Emily, theninjalibrarian.blogspot.com

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