The Skin I’m In By Sharon G. Flake – Book Review

Sharon G. Flake‘s The Skin I’m In is a powerful young adult novel that explores themes of self-acceptance, bullying, and racism. The book follows the story of Maleeka Madison, a young African American girl who struggles with her appearance and her place in society. Through Maleeka’s journey of self-discovery, Flake delivers a poignant and thought-provoking narrative that has resonated with readers for over two decades. In this article, we will take a closer look at this remarkable work of fiction, examining its plot, characters, themes, literary elements, and impact.

The Skin I'm In By Sharon G. Flake - Book Review

Overview of ‘The Skin I’m In’

Plot Summary

The Skin I'm in

The Skin I’m In is a powerful and thought-provoking novel that deals with issues of self-esteem, identity, and bullying. The story revolves around Maleeka Madison, a young girl who struggles to fit in at school because of her dark skin, skinny frame, and homemade clothing.

Maleeka’s experience changes when a new teacher, Miss Saunders, arrives at the school. Miss Saunders sees potential in Maleeka and encourages her to embrace her uniqueness. This boosts Maleeka’s confidence, and she begins to feel better about herself.

However, Maleeka’s newfound confidence is challenged by a group of popular girls, led by Charlese. They bully and pressure Maleeka to conform to their standards. Maleeka is torn between fitting in with her peers and being true to herself.

Throughout the book, Maleeka learns to stand up for herself and to embrace her individuality. She also learns the importance of true friendship and the impact that one person can have on another’s life.

Main Characters

The Skin I’m In features a diverse cast of characters, each with their own distinct personality and backstory.

Maleeka Madison is the protagonist and narrator of the story. She is a bright and talented teenager who struggles with confidence issues due to her appearance. Maleeka is a relatable character who many readers will identify with, as she grapples with the challenges of adolescence.

Miss Saunders is Maleeka’s English teacher, who serves as a mentor and role model for Maleeka. Miss Saunders is a strong and inspiring character who encourages Maleeka to embrace her individuality and to stand up for herself.

Charlese is the leader of a group of popular girls who bully and tease Maleeka. Charlese is a complex character who is both cruel and vulnerable. She is a reminder that bullies are often dealing with their own issues.

Caleb is a new student at the school who befriends Maleeka and stands up for her. Caleb is a kind and compassionate character who shows Maleeka what true friendship looks like.

Setting and Time Period

The Skin I’m In is set in a predominantly African American community in Ohio during the late 1990s. The book takes place in Maleeka’s school and her neighborhood, providing a vivid backdrop for the story.

The setting of the book is an important aspect of the story, as it highlights the cultural and social dynamics that shape Maleeka’s experiences. The book explores issues of race, class, and identity, and the setting plays a key role in conveying these themes.

The late 1990s was a time of significant change in American society, and the book reflects this. The characters grapple with issues that are still relevant today, such as bullying, self-esteem, and the importance of embracing one’s individuality.

Overall, The Skin I’m In is a powerful and important novel that explores important themes and issues. It is a book that will resonate with readers of all ages, and it is a testament to the power of literature to inspire and transform.

Themes and Messages

Self-Acceptance and Identity

A recurring theme in The Skin I’m In is self-acceptance and identity. Maleeka struggles with her appearance and the pressure to conform to her peers’ standards. She wants to fit in but also craves acceptance and validation from others. Miss Saunders’ guidance encourages Maleeka to embrace her individuality and accept her true self. Through her journey, Maleeka learns to appreciate who she is and what makes her special.

Maleeka’s journey towards self-acceptance is not an easy one. She faces many challenges along the way, including bullying, peer pressure, and discrimination. However, with the help of Miss Saunders and her own inner strength, Maleeka is able to overcome these obstacles and find her own sense of identity.

The theme of self-acceptance is an important one, especially for young readers who may be struggling with their own sense of identity. The Skin I’m In encourages readers to embrace their individuality and to celebrate what makes them unique.

Bullying and Peer Pressure

The book also explores the topic of bullying and peer pressure. Maleeka is teased and bullied by her classmates for her appearance and her friendship with Miss Saunders. The popular girls, led by Charlese, pressure Maleeka to conform to their standards and ridicule her when she doesn’t. The book shows how bullying and peer pressure can have lasting effects on an individual’s confidence and self-esteem.

Bullying is a serious issue that affects many young people. The Skin I’m In highlights the impact that bullying can have on an individual’s mental health and well-being. It also emphasizes the importance of standing up to bullies and not giving in to peer pressure.

By portraying the negative effects of bullying and peer pressure, The Skin I’m In encourages readers to be kind to one another and to treat others with respect and empathy.

Racism and Colorism

The Skin I’m In delves into the issues of racism and colorism. Maleeka experiences discrimination and prejudice due to her dark skin tone. She is made to feel inferior to her lighter-skinned peers, highlighting the societal issues of colorism within the African American community. The book also addresses the broader issue of racism and its impact on individuals and society as a whole.

The theme of racism is a difficult one, but it is an important one to address in literature. The Skin I’m In sheds light on the experiences of African Americans who face discrimination and prejudice on a daily basis. It also encourages readers to be aware of their own biases and to work towards creating a more just and equitable society.

The Skin I’m In is a powerful novel that tackles important themes and issues. Through Maleeka’s journey towards self-acceptance and her experiences with bullying, peer pressure, and discrimination, readers are able to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges that young people face. The book is a testament to the resilience and strength of the human spirit and serves as an inspiration to all who read it.

Literary Analysis

Writing Style and Language

Sharon G. Flake’s writing style is accessible and engaging. She uses straightforward language and dialogue that resonates with readers, particularly young adults. The book is written in first-person narrative, which allows the reader to witness Maleeka’s growth and transformation firsthand.

Flake’s writing style is particularly effective in capturing the voice of a young, insecure girl like Maleeka. The simple language and relatable dialogue make it easy for readers to empathize with Maleeka’s struggles and root for her success. The use of first-person narrative also allows the reader to experience Maleeka’s emotions in a more intimate way, making the story all the more powerful.

Symbolism and Imagery

The Skin I’m In employs powerful symbolism and imagery throughout the story. Maleeka’s homemade clothing represents her individuality and creativity, while the popular girls’ designer outfits symbolize their conformity to societal norms. This contrast highlights the importance of staying true to oneself, even in the face of peer pressure.

In addition, the book uses vivid imagery to create a sense of realism and depth. The description of Maleeka’s scars, for example, is haunting and visceral, reminding readers of the physical and emotional toll of bullying. Similarly, the depiction of Charlese’s entourage as a group of drones, mindlessly following their leader, emphasizes the danger of blindly conforming to societal expectations.

Narrative Structure

The book is structured chronologically, following Maleeka’s story from the beginning to the end. This structure allows the reader to see Maleeka’s growth and transformation over time, as she learns to love and accept herself. Each chapter builds on the previous one, creating a sense of momentum and urgency that keeps the reader engaged.

Furthermore, the narrative is driven by Maleeka’s emotional journey. As she struggles with her self-image and the pressures of fitting in, the reader is drawn into her world and invested in her success. This emotional connection makes the book all the more impactful, as readers are able to witness firsthand the power of self-love and self-acceptance.

Impact and Reception

Awards and Recognitions

The Skin I’m In, written by Sharon G. Flake, is a powerful and thought-provoking young adult novel that has left a lasting impact on readers and critics alike. Since its publication in 1998, the book has received numerous awards and recognitions, cementing its place as a classic in young adult literature.

In 1999, The Skin I’m In was named a finalist for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, a highly prestigious award that recognizes exceptional works of literature for young readers. The book has also won several other awards, including the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award and the International Reading Association’s Children’s Book Award.

Influence on Young Adult Literature

The Skin I’m In has had a profound influence on the landscape of young adult literature. The book is widely recognized for its powerful representation of African American characters and its exploration of complex themes and issues. Its impact can be seen in the works of many young adult authors who have been inspired by Flake’s writing style and storytelling.

The novel has become a staple in literary curriculums across the country, and is often used as a teaching tool to help young readers explore themes of self-acceptance, identity, and diversity. Its influence on young adult literature cannot be overstated, and its legacy continues to inspire new generations of readers and writers.

Reader Reviews and Testimonials

Since its publication over two decades ago, The Skin I’m In has received overwhelmingly positive reviews from readers and critics alike. The book has touched the hearts of countless readers, who have praised its themes of self-acceptance, individuality, and the importance of embracing one’s unique identity.

Many readers have described the book as a “must-read” for young adults and educators, citing its impact on their own self-confidence and sense of identity. The relatable characters and engaging storyline have resonated with readers of all ages and backgrounds, making The Skin I’m In a timeless classic in the world of young adult literature.


The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake is an exceptional work of young adult fiction that explores themes of self-acceptance, bullying, and racism. Through Maleeka’s emotional journey, Flake delivers a powerful message about the importance of embracing one’s individuality and standing up for oneself. The book’s impact has been felt by readers and critics alike, earning it numerous awards and recognition over the years. The Skin I’m In remains a relevant and thought-provoking read for young adults and anyone interested in exploring issues of identity, individuality, and societal pressure.

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Eddison Monroe
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