Flake, Sharon G.

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Flake, Sharon G.

PERSONAL: Born in Pittsburgh, PA; children: Brittney.

ADDRESSES: Home—Pittsburgh, PA. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Hyperion, 77 West 66th St., 11th Fl., New York, NY 10023. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: Center for the Assessment and Treatment of Youth in Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA, youth counselor; Katz Business School, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, director of publications.

AWARDS, HONORS: Winner of August Wilson Short Story Contest; scholarship recipient, Highlights for Children's writers' conference; Best Book for Young Adult Readers selection, Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers selection, American Library Association, Top Ten Books for Youth selection, Booklist, Best Children's Book of 1999 selection, Bank Street College of Education, Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for new authors, and New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age selection, 1999, all for The Skin I'm In; Coretta Scott King Honor Book, 2002, for Money Hungry.

WRITINGS:

The Skin I'm In, Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 1998.

Money Hungry, Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 2001.

Begging for Change (sequel to Money Hungry), Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 2003.

Who Am I without Him?: Short Stories about Girls and the Boys in Their Lives, Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 2004.

ADAPTATIONS: The Skin I'm In was adapted for audio, Recorded Books, 2004.

SIDELIGHTS: Sharon G. Flake is the author of novels published by Jump at the Sun, a Hyperion imprint that releases books of interest to black teens. In The Skin I'm In, thirteen-year-old Maleeka Madison is a bright student who is taunted because her grades are too high, her skin is too dark, and because she wears handmade clothing. Maleeka tries to fit in by hanging out with Charlese, the toughest girl in the school, and Maleeka's life changes when Miss Saunders becomes her new English teacher. The woman's face is disfigured by a large birthmark, making her a target of hostility, to which Maleeka contributes. However, her perception changes when the teacher singles Maleeka out as a talented writer and inspires the girl to enter a writing contest which she wins. She is also inspired by the teacher's strength and spirit, and ultimately, Maleeka's own integrity breaks through. Booklist reviewer Hazel Rochman felt that Flake's "characters are complex," while a Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that "those identifying with the heroine's struggle to feel comfortable inside the skin she's in will find inspiration here."

The protagonist in Money Hungry is thirteen-year-old Raspberry Hill, who lives with her mother in a housing project. Prior to this, they slept on the street and on friends's couches after they left Raspberry's drug-addicted father. Now her mother works two jobs and is back in school. Raspberry's best friends include Mia, whose parents are Korean and black but who will only identify herself as black; Ja'nae, who lives with loving grandparents but longs for her flaky mother; and Zora Mitchell, whose divorced doctor father's efforts to pursue a relationship with Raspberry's mother are upsetting both girls. Determined to move into a better neighborhood, Raspberry will do just about anything to earn money; anything except illegal things, like selling dope or shoplifting. She sells pencils and candy, cleans houses, and washes cars. Rather than eat, she adds her lunch money to her hoard, and her stinginess eventually causes problems. When Raspberry's mother finds her bankroll, she thinks the money is stolen and throws it from the window. When everything they own is stolen, Raspberry and her mom once again find themselves on the street to begin again with the support of caring neighbors. A Publishers Weekly contributor said that Flake "candidly expresses the difficulty in breaking the cycle of poverty and leaves it up to the reader to judge Raspberry's acts." School Library Journal reviewer Gail Richmond wrote that Flake "does a stunning job of intertwining Raspberry's story with daily urban scenes, and she writes smoothly and knowingly of teen problems." Gillian Engberg commented in Booklist that Flake's "razor-sharp dialogue and unerring details evoke characters, rooms, and neighborhoods with economy and precision, creating a story that's immediate, vivid, and unsensationalized."

In Begging for Change, Raspberry is rebuilding her nest egg. Her character is flawed in this outing, as she steals cash from friends, raising issues of trust. But her motives are pressing: her mother has been hospitalized after being hit with a pipe. The teen also continues to earn extra money honorably, most of which is taken by her homeless father. When Raspberry and her mother finally move to a better neighborhood, the girl confesses her crimes and begins to repair her ways. A Publishers Weekly writer felt that, "touching upon issues of prejudice, street violence, homelessness, and identity crises, this poignant novel sustains a delicate balance between gritty reality and dream fulfillment." Engberg said that "although vivid images of urban poverty, violence, and drug addiction clearly illustrate why Raspberry is so afraid, Flake never sensationalizes."

Who Am I without Him?: Short Stories about Girls and the Boys in Their Lives is a collection that addresses relationships between young people in today's world. Most, but not all, of the ten stories are written from a girl's point of view. Class is the issue in a story about a boy who steals clothes so that he can dress well for a date with a suburban girl. Race is the issue in another, in which Erika, a black girl from the ghetto, likes white boys. Owhile in another tale a girl tolerates the abuse of a handsome boy just to be with him. Flake's stories contain no obscenity or sex, and as Rochman noted, while "there are messages,… the narrative is never preachy or uplifting; it's honest about the pain." A Kirkus Reviews critic felt that Flake's handling of her subject "shines with an awareness of the real-life social, emotional, and physical pressures that teens feel about dating." In one story not narrated by a girl, a father writes a letter to his daughter, telling her not to settle for someone like him. Mary N. Oluonye wrote in School Library Journal that this story "is sad, poignant, and loving. Flake has a way of teaching a lesson without seeming to do so."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, September 1, 1998, Hazel Rochman, review of The Skin I'm In, p. 110; June 1, 2001, Gillian Engberg, review of Money Hungry, p. 1880; August, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of Begging for Change, p. 1980; April 15, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of Who Am I without Him?: Short Stories about Girls and the Boys in Their Lives, p. 1440.

Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2003, review of Begging for Change, p. 803; April 15, 2004, review of Who Am I without Him?, p. 393.

Kliatt, November, 2004, Samantha Musher, review of Begging for Change, p. 16.

Publishers Weekly, November 9, 1998, review of The Skin I'm In, p. 78; December 21, 1998, "Flying Starts," p. 28; June 18, 2001, review of Money Hungry, p. 82; June 9, 2003, review of Begging for Change, p. 52.

School Library Journal, July, 2001, Gail Richmond, review of Money Hungry, p. 107; July, 2003, Sunny Shore, review of Begging for Change, p. 129; May, 2004, Mary N. Oluonye, review of Who Am I without Him?, p. 147.

ONLINE

New York Public Library Web site, http://www.nypl.org/ (July 18, 2002), transcript of live chat with Flake.