Original publish date: 3 July 2014
Take a scientifically-minded girl and her alien “other half” who can control electrical impulses and resides on a different planet and connect them via a sort of dream realm and you’ll have the basis of Shannon Humphrey’s Hope Defined. There’s the old adage you have to see to believe, but you also have to be ready to see, experience, and accept those things, which seems to be a takeaway from the text.
Hope, the scientifically-minded and ambitious 13 year old girl, is bullied in her neighborhood and school for trying to be white and acting better than those she grew up with in a less than stellar town. Hope gets her ideas for her inventions when she’s sleeping, when she sees Dinah, a girl who looks like her but happens to emit a light from within her, and is inspired from what Dinah can do. Hope desperately wants to be an astrophysicist and through a school competition, she would have a chance at getting to study at MIT during the summer to broaden her scientific skills and improve her collegiate options. And all that Hope has to overcome is her bullies, her mother, and her own lack of self-confidence to succeed. And that’s no small feat to confront.
The story is imbued with racial issues, classist issues, bullying and abuse, as well as science fiction elements for Dinah’s chapters. It was refreshing to read a book from a young black narrator, if only to harp on the #WeNeedDiverseBooks aspect of the publishing industry. But not since I read Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God in high school have I enjoyed reading a story rich in African American Vernacular English.
I must say that I was more excited by the possibilities of this concept than I was satisfied with the execution of it I the end. Maybe it was simply due to my lack of engagement and connection to Dinah and her “world” that I felt let down; or maybe it stems from the loose connection between the two entities’ stories, which made it seem as if Humphrey was trying to tackle too much in a finite story space.
Overall, I’d give it a 3 out of 5.