“That’s just the way it is.” Or, The War Between the Classes

Image from Goodreads.

Image from Goodreads.

Sorry for the delay in posting. My November was full of NaNoWriMo. I didn’t win, but I did get over 20,000 words. I’m happy enough with it, if not thrilled.

But this book…..oh my god this book. It actually is a decent concept for a Y.A. book if only it didn’t contain as many racial stereotypes while simultaneously trying to dismantle those stereotypes.

Emiko ‘Amy’ Sumoto is a middle-class Japanese American girl with a rich white boyfriend, Adam. Amy’s parents (her father in particular) don’t approve of Adam because he is white, and Adam’s mother doesn’t approve of Amy because she isn’t wealthy. But they don’t care, they’re totally in love anyway.

For their social studies class, they are doing a four-week long project called the Color Game. In this game, the class is split into four groups, each representing a socio-economic class. The Blues are the upper-class, Dark Greens are the upper-middle class, Light Greens are the working class, and Oranges are the very poor. The students randomly draw a colored disc to find out where they go.

Amy becomes a Blue, Adam becomes an Orange. In fact, it mysteriously seems that most minority and poor students are either Blue or Dark Green, while most the rich white kids are Light Green or Orange. Each of the three lower classes have to bow and do whatever a class higher than them ask.  Women are the superior sex, and there will be a male beauty pageant at the end of the project. They are also given an allotment of fake money, and are fined for various offenses. The Oranges being fined the most, the Blues usually not at all.

Amy is initially unsure about being a Blue and wielding this power, particularly over Adam. But she finds her nerve when she gets to boss around Justin, richest, whitest, douchebaggiest, rapiest boy in school. Then she finds a part of her she didn’t know existed, and makes his lowly Orange ass grovel.

In the meantime, Amy’s brother Hideo is trying to get back in to their father’s good graces. Hideo had married a white girl, Sue, and their father had shunned him for it. A year later, Sue is pregnant and Papa Sumoto is beginning to come around.

As Amy begins to see the Color Game spiral out of control, she decides to sneak into the school and line the walls with “All Colors Unite” posters. She does this with the help of her friend Juan, a poor hispanic kid who was unlucky enough to become an Orange. When she gets caught for it, she is demoted from Blue to Orange.

But she’s not done. She organizes Oranges and the Light Greens to rally. They make new armbands with all four colors combined, refuse to bow to higher classes and plan on holding a rally to protest their unfair treatment. The Color Game ‘police’ (called G4s for some reason) do everything in their power to stop them. But with a little help from Amy’s friend Gwen, (who maintained her Blue status) they are able to rally anyway.

It ends with the male beauty pageant, and with every single student learning their lesson about treating people based on who they are rather than their skin color, socioeconomic status or gender. Even Justin, the worst person in the world, decided it’s NOT OK to rape a woman who is ‘asking for it’ by wearing certain clothes. (Yes. Really.) And we also learn that the game was rigged with the discs in a double bag, so most upper-class kids would be Light Greens or Oranges, while mostly minorities and middle to lower class kids would be Blues or Dark Greens.

  • Oh, Lord. Save me from the stereotypes. In case you ever forget that Amy is Japanese, here are some reminders. Her father often talks about being a boy in an internment camp, her mother writes haiku and does origami, her dad is good at bonsai, they have a rock and sand garden in their backyard. And they pressure her for good grades.
  • Juan’s mother is a seamstress and there is salsa music playing in his apartment. Because he is Latino, and don’t you forget it. Carol, Juan’s Latino girlfriend, wears a fiesta-style skirt to the dance.
  • Adam lives in a giant house with expensive framed artwork, and his mother is blonde and often has a drink in her hand. And he drives a BMW. Because these are all things that rich white people do.
  • There are only two Japanese families in town. So my theory is that if Papa Sumoto is so insistent on his kids marrying other Japanese people, maybe he should have, oh I don’t know…..lived somewhere with a higher Japanese population?
  • Amy insists to her father, and to everyone that Adam does respect her. Despite us being able to see that he fucking doesn’t. The very first chapter is a school dance and he insists on sitting with his (white) friends instead of Amy’s (mostly Latino) friends. Then date-rapey Justin wants to dance with Amy, but she doesn’t want to. Adam answers for her – telling Justin he can have one dance. And she types all his papers for him, despite the fact that they both got the same grades in typing class.
  • Oh Justin. His nickname for Juan (and, presumably, all the Latinos) is ‘Enchilada.’ Because Latino.
  • Can I talk for a minute about how awful the dialogue is? It’s Sweet Valley awful. At the dance scene, Amy shows that she knows how to Hula (because she’s Asian I guess?)

         “Hey, honey,” he said gathering me into his arms. “What’s this? You were beautiful! I’ll never forget it. Every guy here wants to dance with you. I think I’ll sell chances.”

 I giggled into his chest then looked up to see the amusement in his eyes. “What did I tell you? Here comes Justin with that determined look.” (That RAPEY look)

…..Justin bowed in a low sweeping movement. “Will the lovely Princess Amy do me the honor?”

“Humor him, honey, but only one dance. Who knows, with your charm, maybe you’ll be able to change this ugly gorilla into a handsome prince.”

  • Now that I think about it, this whole book reads like a Sweet Valley book. Except that by the next book, the poor, minority kids are back to being marginalized.
  • Also, at the end of the book, Hideo’s wife Sue has a miscarriage which helps Papa Sumoto see that he’s been a raging dick. Well if that’s all it takes!
  • The Color Game is based on a sociology course at Occidental College. The front of the book says where you can write (by snail mail. It was 1985, after all) for information about it. I did a quick Google search and I discovered an article about a girl whose parents were suing a school in Milwaukee for making the kids play it. For $2.1 million. She wasn’t hurt, she just didn’t like the game, so they were suing for $2.1 million. What the fuckity hell?
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About nikkihb

Wife. Mother. Reader. Blogger.
This entry was posted in Gloria Miklowitz. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to “That’s just the way it is.” Or, The War Between the Classes

  1. Akilah says:

    Didn’t SVH do, like, one scene in a book like this? The one where the black kid gets beat up or something. Jessica thought it was awful to be discriminated against because she had light eyes, I remember.

    WHY DO I REMEMBER THESE THINGS?

    • nikkihb says:

      I didn’t read nearly as many SVH books as a lot of other people. I was a BSC purist 🙂 But it doesn’t surprise me that Francine went there and did it horribly.

  2. JasDramaqueen says:

    Yes! In the episode where Andy (?) gets beaten up by Charlie Cashman…I am ashamed that I remember this! And that dialogue is scarily reminiscent of SVH. Has the author heard of realistic dialogue? I was sooo disappointed when I turned 16 and my boyfriends didn’t talk to me like 35 year old men!

  3. Miriam says:

    Hi! I found your blog when looking up American Sign Language and I have no idea how but somehow I got here. I think your reviews are great and funny.
    I was wondering if you’ve read the BSC Special #9? I think you’d have some pretty strong opinions about that one…

    • nikkihb says:

      American Sign Language? It must have linked to my BSC #16 review 🙂
      Super Special #9 is one that I haven’t read. I’m on the older end of the BSC-readers spectrum, so I haven’t gotten to many of the later titles.

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