A Deeper Story Lies Underneath: The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake


failure of an invention

by Safiya Henderson-Holmes

i am not any of the faces

you have put on me America

every mask has slipped

i am not any of the names

or sounds you have called me

the tones have nearly

made me deaf

this dark skin, both of us

have tried to bleach

i can smell the cancer.

this thick hair, these thick lips

both of us have tried to narrow

begging entrance through

the needle of your eye

some of me broken

in the squeeze

and even as i carry

a bone of yours in my back

your soul America no matter what we’ve tried

I’ve never been able to bear

color2Flake, Sharon. The Skin I’m In. Perfection Learning: 2007. 978-0756984687.

Maleeka Madison is a young girl who is not comfortable in her own skin.  She is teased by her peers for her skin color and her handmade clothes.  It isn’t until an English teacher named Miss Saunders comes along and teaches her to acknowledge the beauty on the inside and the outside.  Miss Saunders has a condition known as vitiligo.  It causes her skin to look imperfect in others’ eyes.  But Miss Saunders does not let what others think bother her.  She tries to get Maleeka to feel the same way, but Maleeka is trying to fit in with the in crowd.  The in crowd clowns Miss Saunders every day, so Maleeka follows suit.  As Maleeka digs deeper into a writing assignment that entails the diary of a slave girl, she begins the quest of loving herself.

This novel works well on many levels.  There is a cultural connection.  The color complex is a social and cultural construct that is unfortunately included in the fabric of many cultures.  The historical implications of the light vs. dark have sown many weeds into a person’s self-esteem.  In African American literature, the issue of color has been around since Wallace Thurman’s The Blacker the Berry & Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.

Flake’s writing style draws adolescents in because she connects Maleeka’s plight to the common angst of being a teenager:  fitting in.  Whether it is weight, clothes, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class, or color, teens have to deal with something about them that disqualifies them to be a part of the popular clique.  Flake’s use of the vernacular also engages adolescents more into the storyline.  My students enjoyed the tension between Maleeka and Char, Maleeka’s “friend.”

An assignment that I had my students do after reading this novel was a collage of their definition of beauty.  The various, visual interpretations amazed me and became a counter narrative to the message society advocates.







Text-to-Text Connections (The following novels and short story collection deal with self-image, race,mixed race, and transgender adolescents.  They would be perfect to pair up with The Skin I’m In  because the characters in each book struggle with balancing or negating society’s perceptions of them.)

step to this  Step to This by Nikki Carter


flavor of the weekFlavor of the Week by Tucker Shaw


you are freeYou Are Free:  Stories by Danzy Senna


skinnySkinny by Ibi Kaslik


shrink to fitShrink to Fit  Dona Sarkar


luna-julie-anne-peters2 Luna    Julie Anne Peters




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4 responses to “A Deeper Story Lies Underneath: The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake

  1. Wow, I remember when my niece read this book when she was in middle school and she is now almost 25. I could write a dissertation on colorism in the black community. The most recent Black in America with CNN addressed the issue. I received this email yesterday that begins to address self-esteem in black children, especially girls.

    • Dera, I could write one as well. I have dealt with the stigma of colorism with family and friends who thought that my light-skinned sister was prettier and better than me. As a child, it was one of the things that affected my self-esteem. As I became an adult, that changed. It is still an issue especially with recent discussion about Beyonce’s Vogue cover. I liked the Pretty Brown Girls FB page and love the different images they show. Thank you for responding.

  2. I have white skin, so will never walk in those exact shoes. But I’ve always been heavy and that has its own kind of rejection with kids (and some adults). So while the experience is different, the heart understands the hurt and isolation.

    The poem at the beginning was beautiful.

    • Weight is definitely an issue that adolescents and adults struggle with constantly. As an adolescent, I was constantly teased by my family and others for being too skinny. I always felt self-conscious being really tall and very skinny. I prayed to gain some weight. Now as an adult, I struggle with keeping the weight off and have begun to appreciate my adolescent self. I think media really plays a role with perception of weight. Even though we have the Dove commercials and plus-size fashion lines, society still has not fully embraced different sizes. Thanks for commenting!

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