Hannah Harris and Marcus Harris
Reviewed by Marjorine Castillo for Reader Views (10/19)
Hannah and Marcus Harris’ book “#Snapshot” uses poetry to convey personal, social, and political issues American adolescents may be facing in the current social media-driven and political chaotic climate. The themes of the poems vary from topics such as self-esteem, interactions with friends and family, school, and policies that are disproportionately affecting the lives of youth of color. The authors successfully convey the message that the youth are experiencing various emotions as they transition into adulthood and begin to see the current world for what it is. The writing is clear, accessible, and appropriate for a wide audience. I believe people who like poetry or are interested in using short text to discuss grand issues such as the ones discussed in this book would enjoy the book. Some of the poems were insightful and well-written. However, other poems felt incomplete and could have been revised to make the messages stronger.
The first section of the book, “The Daily,” focuses on everyday issues adolescents might be experiencing such as self-doubt, acne, social media pressure, and aspirations for the future. My favorite vignette was ‘Kidulthood’ because it speaks to how adults have normalized overprotecting adolescents from things they shouldn’t know about, despite the reality that many are exposed to “adult things” before parents realize. I think this poem powerfully conveys the “in-betweenness” that children go through, on one end being exposed to “adult things” by their peers, but on the other being treated as naïve by their parents. The poems ‘Never Be,’ ‘Little Girls,’ and ‘Cuteness’ were about physical appearance, which is an important aspect for adolescents’ self-esteem, but I felt that the poems came off as judgmental by using phrases like “they all look like clowns.” If the target audience for this book is youth, then I could see an adolescent getting offended if they dress in the ways described in the poem. I think it would be more useful to describe different types of youth experiences in a neutral tone rather than place judgement.
“The Grind” and “The Salt” sections were, in my opinion, the weakest parts of the book. Most of vignettes read like a list of descriptive adjectives that describe the pressure parents and teachers put on students to succeed and how bullying is a manifestation of underlying issues. These are important topics that are very relevant to the lived experiences of youth, therefore, more substance would have had a greater impact than a list of words. I acknowledge that I am reading it from an adult perspective, so a youth might enjoy the simplicity and connect with the poems more than I did. The sections “The Ride,” “The Curve,” and “The Fam” were more about interpersonal relationships and what youth can learn from other generations. Some of the vignettes (Dadda Says, Pop Pop Says, Mama Says, and Nana Says) could have been condensed into one poem. I liked the concise writing about cultural knowledge being passed down felt it would have a greater impact as one poem.
The section, “The Real,” was the most interesting part of the book and it was more of what I expected when I read the description of the book. The authors focus on issues regarding the school to prison pipeline, racism, media desensitization, gentrification and displacement, biased criminal justice system, xenophobia, and immigration. This part was my favorite section because the poems delivered profound messages about issues that affect groups of populations in different ways. In ‘Pipeline,’ ‘Surviving Adolescence,’ and ‘Consequences’ the authors describe the perpetuating cycle that many black and brown people are kept into due to structural racism, racial profiling and social neglect of communities of color. Adolescents must be careful to engage in normal human interactions such as being invited to private parties or playing music at the gas station, because the consequences of being perceived as criminal are dire and vary by race. The vignettes ‘Perpetual Solution,’ ‘What I Know,’ and ‘My America (?),’ discussed the effects of gentrification on the communities that get displaced and the xenophobia incited by political figures who try to paint immigrants as criminals and terrorists. The discourse of “othering” people in America and how this mistreatment stems from the legacy of America’s colonial history was well elaborated in the poems. Youth need to be aware of these hidden issues so that they are not mislead when it is their time to politically contribute to a better society. These poems were gratifying and informative in a time where people are trying to make sense of what is happening in the world.
Overall, #Snapshot by Hannah Harris and Marcus Harris was an interesting way to engage youth into reading about difficult topics that too often are written in dense text. Some of the poems seemed too simplistic, at least for me, to elicit the kind of thinking the authors potentially wanted to provoke, nevertheless, I believe this is an appropriate book for people who like poetry or are interested in addressing the topics discussed in unconventional ways.