Miss You, Mina by Denene Miller
Candy Apple, Scholastic, July 2010.
Each book in the Summer Series follows the summer adventures of one of the three friends. I picked Miss You, Mina off a book list, and pulled it off the New Releases shelf in the Library Children’s Section. I didn’t have time to look up the others. Fortunately, the book is a good read on its own.
Wilhemina “Mina” Chestnut and her friends are from Greenwood, New Jersey. Though not far from New York City, it is still a world away for Mina. Staying with her cool Auntie Jill in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, Mina is attending an Art Camp where the Aunt teaches. The Soho Children’s Art Program, turns out, is a very competitive program in more ways than one. Only 15 out of the hundreds of applicants are selected (24). And while the competition to win the cover space of the Fall Art Program should be a friendly one, it isn’t—thanks to Paulette.
Paulette has zeroed in on Mina as her biggest threat for the win. Mina just wants to be left alone to work on her Art, but Paulette is determined to make her summer miserable. Mina is made to feel self-conscious about her work and her confidence falters.
Mina continually misses her friends. The three are so tight Mina isn’t really looking for any new friends. Lucky for Mina, Gabriella is so persistent. But Gabriella can’t keep Mina from feeling like a Tourist, despite the tip to not gawk at the skyscrapers.
“Wow, so I know they don’t Double Dutch in New Jersey, but are they short on rhythm, too? KeKe laughed.
“I really didn’t have it in me to explain [to Auntie] why I was the only black girl in the world who couldn’t Double Dutch and didn’t know the jump rope songs. Or that I was scared of being the out-of-touch Jersey girl in the big, bad, fast city—scared of the subway, and clueless about all of the rich culture the city had to offer. […] I need to talk to one of my friends. My real friends.” (100)
Then Jill takes Mina with her to the Studio Museum in Harlem. Mina sees ways to find home where she is, in a Kenyan artist-made bracelet that sports Liza’s favorite colors black and green (110) and in familiar foods that reminded her of her mom’s cooking (114). Mina begins to feel more connected to her surroundings, her new friends, and her Art.
“Miss you, Mina” is not just a postcard ending. Mina misses the people and places that make up her identity. She has to readjust her perspective and expand and grow. She works to take risks in her Art, she extends herself to include more friends into her confidence and try new things.
Miss You, Mina reads like a Travel Narrative. We see the sights of New York City along with Mina; the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Rockefeller Center, the Studio Museum and the Schomburg Center. For all the Place, there is a stress on the people. “It was more important to show the people of New York City and not just the buildings. They’re the ones that bring life to the city”(92). Millner brings life to every sight/site she visits.
The story is first-person, and Mina has the vocalizations of a 12 year old girl. Or I’m trusting it is (as I am short on 12 year old acquaintances). There are plenty of pop culture references for the targeted audience—though I am quite familiar with High School Musical, the first, second, and third, and know who Corbin Bleu is.
A Reader, probably a middle-grade girl, who likes contemporary fiction, New York City, and Art would adore this book. It has potential to be mistaken as fluff (I was leery), but I was pleasantly surprised to find a smart middle-grade read.
Reminds me of Anne Brashares’ The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants but obviously for a younger audience.