The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake

Bibliographic Information: Flake, S. (1998). The Skin i’m in. New York, NY: Jump at the Sun, Hyperion. ISBN: 1423103858. 171 pages.

Plot Summary: Maleeka Madison’s life is not easy.  Her mother has been mourning the death of Maleeka’s father for the past two years, leaving Maleeka, a seventh grader, responsible for more than someone her age should be.  Her dark skin; tall, skinny frame; and homemade clothing are fodder for the harsh critics that are her school classmates.  And her small group of “friends,” lead by the most popular and feared girl in school, are only there due to Maleeka’s book smarts that help them pass their courses.  And then comes the new teacher, Miss Saunders, an African American woman with a large white birthmark across her face.  Miss Saunders seems to see Maleeka for who she really is, a sensitive, intelligent girl doing the best she can in difficult circumstances.  But, Miss Saunders expects great things from Maleeka, and will not settle for less, she encourages Maleeka to write and express herself.  “Miss Saunders loves the skin she’s in.  Can Maleeka learn to do the same?” (from The Skin i’m in, back cover).

Critical Evaluation: Maleeka’s struggle to accept herself and find her place in an often cruel world is authentic and moving.  Through Flake, Maleeka’s voice is sensitive and strong and draws the reader in to her complicated world.  The Skin i’m in is Flakes first book, and she has gone on to write other well-received and significant works.  Highly praised by critics, The Skin i’m in’s many awards and honors include: Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent, Publishers Weekly Author to Watch, New York Public Library Top Ten Book for the Teen Age, YALSA Best Books for Young Adult Readers, YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers.  This book provides an important perspective and voice that is often underrepresented.  The book not only addresses on racism and bullying, but also brings up the issue of colorism or skin tone bias within the African American community.  Providing hope without being trite, The Skin i’m in would provide substantial subject matter for both classroom and book group discussions.

Reader’s Annotation: Maleeka is considered to tall, skinny, and dark-skinned by her classmates.  When Miss Saunders, the unlikely new teacher, comes to Maleeka’s school she has something to teach Maleeka that she will not find in her school books.

Information about the Author: Sharon Flake is an  acclaimed and celebrated author of young adult literature, but she is so much more.  She wants young people to learn to love themselves for who they are, to dream, and to follow their passions.  Here is the text from the page on her website entitled “4U” from (

A Message4U

As you read my novels, believe that you can do and accomplish more than you know. After all, you have so many gifts, so many talents, so many opportunities to accomplish what you will. You’re human, so you’ll make mistakes along the way. We all do. But don’t you dare give up on you. Forget the haters. Forgive yourself and others. Brush yourself off and start over again if things don’t work out the way you planned.

I felt scared and little most of my life, so I know what it feels like to push past your fears and learn to see yourself differently. If I can do it, so can you. After all, you are the hope for the future, the promise that everything will be okay if we just don’t quit on ourselves or one another.

Hope. Dream. Believe.

Laugh a little.

Work hard (nothing gets accomplished without hard work). And watch what happens: you’re begin to see what many of us have known about you all along—you can do incredible things and have a remarkable life.

Just Hope. Dream. Believe. I do.

Genre: Issues, Multicultural Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Urban Fiction

Category: Issues: Social Concerns: Racism

Topics Covered: Racism, Colorism, Bullying, Friendship, Family, Sexual Harassment

Curriculum Ties: English, Social Studies

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Describe Maleeka’s friendship with Charlese

Reading Level/Interest Age: 12 – 16

Challenge Issues: There are no obvious challenge issues associated with this book.  Preparation for any challenge can include the librarian’s: reading of the book, adhering to the library’s collection development department, and possessing reviews of the book from well-regarded sources.

Why is this book included? Authentic multicultural portrayals have an important place in a library’s collection.  Though this book is about a seventh grader, the topics are relevant for younger as well as older readers.  The reading level is appropriate for older readers and reluctant readers who need more accessible books with interesting and relevant subject matter.  The book is also an excellent piece of literature, was well-reviewed and received several awards (see above “Critical Evaluation”).


Shea, L. (2004). Editors shelf. Multicultural Review, 13(4), 14-24.