Violet Diamond has always hated the way people look at her—like she doesn’t belong in her family. Her mother and older half sister are white, but Violet herself is biracial; her father, whom she never met, was African-American. Growing up in a small town outside Seattle, Violet only knows a handful of other people of color. But the summer after she finishes elementary school, Violet asks to meet her paternal grandmother, from whom her mother has been estranged since the car accident that killed Violet’s father.
Violet’s “Bibi” (Swahili for grandmother), a professional artist, lives in a primarily black neighborhood of Los Angeles. As Bibi and Violet build a relationship for the first time, Violet learns to appreciate their shared value of personal prayer, her family’s difficult history and her own racial identity, all while dancing to old records, cooking special-ingredient recipes and touring the city’s landmarks.
Brenda Woods, author of the Coretta Scott Honor book The Red Rose Box, was inspired to write Violet’s story by the circumstances of a biracial daughter of a friend. Although her friend’s daughter was unable to trace the African-American side of her family, Woods wanted to explore how a similar girl might feel in different circumstances.
Violet’s voice is delightfully perfect for a precocious, attentive 11-year-old. She loves learning new words (which she records in her word and wish journal), likes to ice skate and entertains potential career plans ranging from commercial pilot to gourmet chef. A cast of supporting characters, including Violet’s maternal grandparents, her sister’s French-speaking boyfriend, her friends and their families, a newfound (and annoying!) boy cousin and even a newly adopted kitten add texture to the story.
A book about a biracial preteen is as welcome as ever, especially at a time when breakfast cereal commercials featuring interracial families can still spark racist ire. The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond is overall funny, poignant and an important contribution to the diversity of middle grade literature.