Cover image for The skin I'm in
The skin I'm in
Publication Information:
New York : Jump at the Sun, 2007, c1998.
Physical Description:
171 p. ; 21 cm.
Reading Level:
670 L Lexile
Thirteen-year-old Maleeka, uncomfortable because her skin is extremely dark, meets a new teacher with a birthmark on her face and makes some discoveries about how to love who she is and what she looks like.


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Maleeka suffers every day from the taunts of the other kids in her class. If they're not getting at her about her homemade clothes or her good grades, it's about her dark, black skin.

When a new teacher, whose face is blotched with a startling white patch, starts at their school, Maleeka can see there is bound to be trouble for her too. But the new teacher's attitude surprises Maleeka. Miss Saunders loves the skin she's in. Can Maleeka learn to do the same?

Author Notes

Sharon G. Flake won the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award for her first novel The Skin I'm In and is a two-time Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book winner. Beloved by children and adults, critics and booksellers, librarians and teachers, she is the author of a middle-grade novel and five books for young adults that have sold more than half a million copies. The mother of a college-age daughter, Flake writes full-time from her home in Pittsburgh.

To learn more about Ms. Flake, please visit her at

Reviews 4

School Library Journal Review

Gr 6-8-Seventh-grader Maleeka Madison is miserable when a new teacher comes to her depressed inner-city school. Miss Saunders evidently is rich, self-assured in spite of the white birthmark across her black skin, and prone to getting into kids' faces about both their behavior and their academic potential. Black and bright, Maleeka is so swamped by her immediate problems that Miss Saunders's attentions nearly capsize her stability. The girl's mother has just emerged from a two-year period of intense mourning for her dead husband, during which time her daughter has provided her with physical and moral support with no adult assistance. At school, Maleeka endures mean-spirited teasing about the darkness of her skin and her unstylish clothing. She seeks solace in writing an extended creative piece, at Miss Saunders's instigation, and also in the company of a powerful clique of nasty girls. Told in Maleeka's voice, this first novel bristles with attitude that is both genuine and alarming. The young teen understands too well that her brains aren't as valuable as the social standing that she doesn't have. In the end, she is able to respond positively to Miss Saunders; she also becomes socially anointed through the affections of the most popular boy in the school. This message rings true in spite of the fact that Maleeka's salvation isn't exactly politically correct. Young teens will appreciate Flake's authenticity and perhaps realize how to learn from Maleeka's struggle for security and self-assurance.-Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Horn Book Review

Thirteen-year-old African-American Maleeka suffers from acute low self-esteem, stemming from the taunts she receives mainly because of her dark complexion. Into her life walks Miss Saunders, a teacher whose rare skin condition also sets her apart. Miss Saunders is almost too good to be true, but the reader slowly sees her vulnerability. This first novel is fast-paced and realistic. From HORN BOOK Spring 1999, (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

A timid seventh grader finds the mettle to shake some bad companions in this patchy esteem-builder from Flake. Tired of being harassed in the halls for her dark skin and homemade clothes, Maleeka latches on to tough, mouthy classmate Charlese for protection, although the cost is high: doing Charlese's homework and enduring her open contempt. Enter Miss Saunders, a large, expensively dressed advertising executive on sabbatical for a year to teach in an inner-city school; Maleeka puts up a hostile front, but slowly, angrily, responds to the woman's ""interference,"" creating a journal that is part diary, part a fictional slave's narrative that later wins a writing contest. As Maleeka inches toward independence, Charlese counterattacks, bullying her into incriminating acts that climax with a fire in Miss Saunders's classroom. The violence is contrived, the characters sketchy and predictable, but the relationship that develops between Maleeka and Miss Saunders isn't all one-way. A serviceable debut featuring a main character who grows in clearly composed stages. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

Whether the setting is a tough city neighborhood or a poor Hawaiian village, bullies are scary, gangs are trouble, and it's hard to be different. In both these YA novels, a middle-schooler feels like an outcast and struggles for acceptance. Be sure to connect these books with the Read-alikes column "Bullies" [BKL S 1 97]. In Flake's novel, Maleeka Madison feels like a freak in her inner-city middle school. The kids pick on her because she's "the darkest, worst-dressed thing in school" and because she gets good grades. The leader of the pack is Charlese, who pulls and pushes Maleeka into wilder and wilder delinquent behavior. A new teacher tries to help and so does a smart, friendly boy. In the end, Maleeka stands up for herself, wins the poetry contest, and likes the skin she's in. The message is overt ("Strut your stuff . . . accept yourself for who you are"), but first novelist Flake lessens the sermonizing. Funny and clever, she's honest about how mean people are, how hard it is. The characters are complex: even the cute, friendly boyfriend fails Maleeka one time when she most needs him; the teacher is vulnerable as well as strong; the bad girl's home is a disaster. The gum-smacking, wisecracking dialogue in the hallways, the girls' bathroom, and the classroom will pull readers into a world too rarely represented in middle-grade fiction. Every outsider kid will get it, every victim of class bullies. Salisbury's novel also has many scenes that take place in the classroom, and the teacher is a mentor who tries to help. Small and bespectacled, Boy Kahekilimaikalani Regis is terrified of the pack of wild "jungle" dogs that he has to confront on his early-morning paper route near his island village. His older brother, Damon, calls Boy "sissy," but at school and on the street, Damon has always watched out for Boy. Now Boy wants Damon to stay out of things: the macho challenges are just intensifying the gang warfare and the danger for everyone. Boy makes himself face the scary dogs, and he tries to get his brother to see that everything doesn't have to be fight or die. The classroom project--" Who Do You Look Up To?--is too messagey, but Boy's answer about his enemy is both tentative and realistic ("I even look up to a boy I don't like very much because I know he cares about things"). Boy's "worn-out, dirt-stained" home is loving despite the conflicts, and there's a strong sense of the rough teenage world, where one boy tries to stop the hating. --Hazel Rochman