I just finished Evette: The River and Me! Since there's not much on the Internet about the World By Us dolls due to their in-store release literally being yesterday, I figured I'd provide summaries of the books along with my reviews.
If you don't want to be spoiled, don't click this post!
The book starts with a flashback to Evette and her family’s Essential Workers sign from the beginning of the pandemic. While Evette had fun with her family making the sign, and she spent the pandemic while she was working with her Gran E and exploring Gran E’s closet, she’s glad things are getting back to normal so she can see her Grandma and Grandpa Peeters again. She’s also excited to see her best friend Ashlyn again, who spent the entire summer in Maine. She DMs Makena, who she only knows from Instagram, a picture of her platform shoes. When she arrives at school, Evette learns that Ashlyn dyed her hair pink and found two new friends, Gia and Ziggy. Ziggy asks about Evette’s race, which makes her uncomfortable, but Evette explains that she is Black on her mom’s side and white on her dad’s. At lunch, Ashlyn sits with Gia and Ziggy, making Evette feel like she is “not essential” to Ashlyn.
Evette gets picked up from school by her brother Bud and Gran E, who insists on going to the community center to donate some vegetables to the food pantry. While Evette explores her closet, she finds a sunflower swimsuit, which reminds Gran E of the time she wore it. Gran E went to a public pool when she was younger, but some white kids harassed Gran E because she was Black, so Gran E never went to the pool again and instead swam in the river. Evette asks if Gran E wants to go to Grandma and Grandpa Peeters’ pool, but Gran E refuses. They then agree to make a road trip to the river one day. The three then prepare for the community center, grabbing vegetables and sunflowers.
At the community center, Evette gives the receptionist her sunflowers and meets Maritza, who was looking for the water refill. Maritza notices the sunflowers, and Evette says they’re Mexican. Maritza explains that she’s part-Mexican, part-Bolivian and that all of her family is coming to a family reunion next year. That makes Evette think of reuniting her family. She then meets Makena at an art exhibit, and the three agree to go thrifting together one day. They all exchange numbers, and Evette is happy that she made 2 new friends.
Evette and Bud tell their mom that they get to go to the river soon, and Evette tells her mom about Ashlyn after she asks. Mom wonders if the two can still be friends, but Evette figures that Makena and Maritza will be better friends than Ashlyn. Evette then asks about the rift in the family and why Gran E and the Peeters grandparents never see each other and her mom says that Gran E and Grandma Peeters don’t like each other and the event is best forgotten. Evette then wonders if it has anything to do with race.
Evette takes a ride with her dad to get his car fixed, and Evette asks him about the rift in the family. Dad says that he and his wife tried to fix things, but things still wouldn’t be fixed. Dad says it’s best to leave it in the past, but Evette doesn’t think that’s a good idea. At school, she avoids Ashlyn, but she wonders if that’s how a rift starts- by people avoiding other people.
On the way to the river spot, Gran E tells Evette about how she found the spot on the river. After she told her brother Robert about what happened in the pool, Robert took her to the river spot and the two have fun. Once Evette arrives, she notices lots of junk in the river, including bags, bottles, and even tires. Gran E can’t even look at it and decides to head back, but Evette thinks about the polluted river and wishes she could do something about it but thinks the problem is too big.
When Evette goes to Grandma and Grandpa Peeters’ house, she gives her grandparents big hugs and heads straight to the pool. She tells Grandma Peeters about the pollution in the river and asks about what happened between her and Gran E. Grandma Peeters explains that her parents wanted to have their wedding reception at Gran E’s house, but they ended up having it at the Peeters house because Grandma Peeters said that Gran E’s neighborhood was a “bad neighborhood” and criminals would steal their things, even though the neighborhood was safe. Grandma Peeters now regrets the comment, but Gran E never forgot, left the wedding early, and never saw Grandma and Grandpa Peeters again. Grandma Peeters told Evette that she wants to apologize, but never did, and she thinks that fifteen years is too late to apologize.
Evette is at the community center with Maritza and Makena, who tell the others about what happened with Najee and the girl named Lexi. Evette feels terrible, thinks of her brother, and tells everyone what’s going on with her grandmothers. They feel bad, but then Evette goes to the water refill station and notices a sign of someone organizing river cleanups with a phone number. Evette calls the number and starts organizing volunteers to clean up the river, including Makena, Maritza, Grandma Peeters, Gran E, and Ashlyn, who insists on bringing Gia and Ziggy.
On the day of the river cleanup, people start coming, including Grandma and Grandpa Peeters. Gran E hadn’t arrived yet, but Kasey (the person who organizes river cleanups) takes Evette, Makena, and Maritza on a canoe and explains that the river here is more polluted than the rest of the Anacostia. The girls clean up and have fun, like everyone else, but the clean-up ends and Gran E never shows.
Similar to the scene in Makena’s book, the girls think about what they can do to be against issues like pollution and racism and for community and unity. They set on creating a page called World By Us, but Evette knows that if she wants to do that, she needs to fix the rift in her family. She asks both Gran E and Grandma Peeters to come to the river, without telling either who’d be there.
Evette sits with Ashlyn and her friends at lunch and they play a game of “who found the worst garbage at the river cleanup”. When Gran E picks up Evette after school, Evette explains that she knows everything and she’s making her talk to Grandma Peeters. At the river, Grandma Peeters explains how wrong she was, and Gran E says how hurt she was by the comment. The two make amends, but as they do so, the car mechanic Stan tries to put tires in the river. Evette yells at him, but he still does it. The grandmas get mad, but Evette comes up with another idea. She asks her dad to ask Stan to bring the tires he dumped to Riverfront Community Center.
Evette explains to Makena and Maritza her idea to turn the tires into planters for flowers and to decorate the tires. The friends decorate them, and after, Kasey buys some and Stan buys the rest, deciding to keep on reusing old tires and splitting the profits with the community center if customers want more. With her friends, Evette reflects on everything, thinking that when people come together, they can do good things.
My Review: I enjoyed reading this book.
First, I need to mention the comic-style illustrations that told the story of several important scenes in Evette's book. I felt like these were done very well, and they were a good way of tackling flashbacks and important stuff like Gran E's pool incident and what happened between Grandma Peeters and Gran E.
Evette was a good character. She's passionate- like Makena, but in a different way. If I had to describe Evette, she'd be passionate, but also caring and cheerful too. She's always positive, and I like that about her.
Maritza was more active in Evette's story than in Makena's. I liked seeing more of her personality, and I can't wait to read her book in a little bit. Makena was also active, and I liked the scene when they were in the canoe at the river cleanup. I love their friendship dynamic and can't wait to see more of it in Maritza's story.
I liked some of the plotting, but other elements of the plot felt recycled to me. I liked the racism-in-the-family plot, because it was original and I wasn't expecting what the conflict ended up being like and it took a lot to fix. However, that being said, the river cleanup plot felt a bit quick to me. The cleanup was planned in one chapter and took place the next, and I would have personally liked to see more buildup to it. Also, there was a friendship plot too, with Evette and Ashlyn, and I am sick of the "friend finds new friends" trope in AG books- it reminded me of Blaire and Saige. (And the friendship fight trope in general.) It could have been handled better, like in Courtney: Friendship Superhero.
This book gets a 7.5/10 from me. I liked Makena's better because more of it was original, but I still liked Evette's book.