Sharon G. Flake Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
Born in Pittsburgh, PA; children: Brittney.
Agent—c/o Author Mail, Hyperion, 77 W. 66th St., 11th Fl., New York, NY 10023.
Center for the Assessment and Treatment of Youth in Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA, youth counselor; Katz Business School, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, director of publications.
August Wilson Short Story Contest winner; Highlights for Children writers' conference scholarship; Best Book for Young-Adult Readers selection, and Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers selection, both American Library Association (ALA), Top-Ten Books for Youth selection, Booklist, Best Children's Book selection, Bank Street College of Education, Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for new authors, and New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age selection, all 1999, all for The Skin I'm In; Coretta Scott King Honor Book designation, 2002, for Money Hungry; Coretta Scott King Honor Award, YALSA Best Books for Young Adults designation, and ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers selection, all 2006, and Missouri Gateway Readers Award nomination, 2006–07, all for Who Am I without Him?
The Skin I'm In, Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 1998.
Money Hungry, Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 2001.
Begging for Change (sequel to Money Hungry), Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 2003.
Who Am I without Him?: Short Stories about Girls and the Boys in Their Lives, Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 2004.
Bang!, Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 2005.
The Skin I'm In was adapted for audio, Recorded Books, 2004.
Beginning her writing career while working in public relations, Sharon G. Flake has become noted for her novels geared for African-American teens, particularly teen girls. In The Skin I'm In, thirteen-year-old Maleeka Madison is a bright student who is taunted for her excellent grades, her dark complexion, and the fact that her clothes are handmade rather than in-fashion clothes from the mall. Although Maleeka tries to fit in by hanging out with Charlese, the toughest girl in the school, the teen's life changes after Ms. Saunders becomes her new English teacher. Although Maleeka at first joins in the taunts that are directed toward the woman, whose face is disfigured by a large birthmark, she rethinks her actions when Ms. Saunders publicly praises Maleeka's writing and encourages the girl to enter a writing contest. Booklist reviewer Hazel Rochman noted that Flake's "characters are complex," while a Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that "those identifying with the heroine's struggle to feel comfortable inside the skin she's in will find inspiration here."
Money Hungry focuses on thirteen-year-old Raspberry Hill, who lives with her always-working mother in a housing project. The family's situation has been bordering on desperate: until recently, Raspberry and her mother had lived on the street and crashed on friends' couches after leaving Raspberry's drug-addicted father. Determined to move into a better neighborhood, Raspberry will do just about anything to earn money; any-thing except illegal things, like selling dope or shoplifting. She sells pencils and candy, cleans houses, and washes cars. Rather than eat, she even adds her lunch money to her hoard. Her hyper-stinginess eventually causes problems when her mother finds the bankroll and, believing that the money is stolen, throws it out the window. Ironically, everything they own is stolen shortly thereafter, and Raspberry and her mom once again find themselves living on the street, buoyed by the support of caring neighbors. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that Flake "candidly expresses the difficulty in breaking the cycle of poverty and leaves it up to the reader to judge Raspberry's acts," while School Library Journal reviewer Gail Richmond praised Flake for doing "a stunning job of intertwining Raspberry's story with daily urban scenes"; "she writes smoothly and knowingly of teen problems." In another enthusiastic review of Money Hungry, Gillian Engberg commented in Booklist that Flake's "razor-sharp dialogue and unerring details evoke characters, rooms, and neighborhoods with economy and precision, creating a story that's immediate, vivid, and unsensationalized."
Begging for Change again focuses on Raspberry, as she works to rebuild her nest egg. She is a far more desperate girl than she was in Money Hungry; now Raspberry steals cash from friends, raising issues of trust. Her motives are pressing, however: her mother has been hospitalized after being hit with a pipe. In keeping with her character, the desperate teen also continues to earn much of her money honorably, although most of her earnings are taken by her homeless father. When Raspberry and her mother finally move to a better neighborhood, the girl confesses her crimes and begins to repair her ways. A Publishers Weekly writer felt that, "touching upon issues of prejudice, street violence, homelessness, and identity crises, this poignant novel sustains a delicate balance between gritty reality and dream fulfillment." Engberg wrote that, "although vivid images of urban poverty, violence, and drug addiction clearly illustrate why Raspberry is so afraid, Flake never sensationalizes."
Flake's Who Am I without Him?: Short Stories about Girls and the Boys in Their Lives contains ten stories that address relationships between young people dealing with a variety of issues, most often from a girl's point of view. Flake's stories contain no obscenity or sex, and as Rochman noted, while "there are messages,… the narrative is never preachy or uplifting; it's honest about the pain." Class is the central issue in one story about a boy who steals clothes so that he can dress well for a date with a suburban girl, while race figures in another tale in which Erika, a black girl from the ghetto, develops crushes on white boys. In yet a another tale a girl tolerates the abusive behavior of a handsome boy just to be with him.
A Kirkus Reviews critic, reviewing Who Am I without Him?, wrote that Flake's fiction "shines with an awareness of the real-life social, emotional, and physical pressures that teens feel about dating." Describing one particular story, in which a father writes a letter to his daughter, telling her not to settle for someone like him, Mary N. Oluonye commented in a School Library Journal review that the tale "is sad, poignant, and loving," adding that, in her fiction, "Flake has a way of teaching a lesson without seeming to do so."
In the novel Bang! Flake tells her story through the experiences of a male teen whose family is devastated following the murder of his little brother. Thirteen-year-old Mann and his friends become fatalistic, believing that it is only a matter of time before they, too, become statistics reflecting the violence of their inner-city community. When Mann's father decides to take his son and friend Keelee on a survival adventure disguised as a camping trip in the hopes that the experience will "toughen up" the young teens, the results change Mann's life forever. The events of the story "will spark as much controversy among readers as it does among characters" in Flake's novel, noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer, praising Bang! as a "hard-hitting survival tale." In Booklist Jennifer Mattson wrote that "the complicated relationship" between father and son "represents a welcome investigation of African American manhood," while in Kirkus Reviews a contriutor deemed the novel a "powerful—and disturbing" depiction of "teens struggling to deal with a world that is out of control."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, September 1, 1998, Hazel Rochman, review of The Skin I'm In, p. 110; June 1, 2001, Gillian Engberg, review of Money Hungry, p. 1880; August, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of Begging for Change, p. 1980; April 15, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of Who Am I without Him?: Short Stories about Girls and the Boys in Their Lives, p. 1440; July, 2005, Jennifer Mattson, review of Bang!, p. 1916.
Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2003, review of Begging for Change, p. 803; April 15, 2004, review of Who Am I without Him?, p. 393; July 15, 2005, review of Bang!, p. 788.
Kliatt, November, 2004, Samantha Musher, review of Begging for Change, p. 16.
Publishers Weekly, November 9, 1998, review of The Skin I'm In, p. 78; December 21, 1998, "Flying Starts," p. 28; June 18, 2001, review of Money Hungry, p. 82; June 9, 2003, review of Begging for Change, p. 52; October 24, 2005, review of Bang!, p. 59.
School Library Journal, July, 2001, Gail Richmond, review of Money Hungry, p. 107; July, 2003, Sunny Shore, review of Begging for Change, p. 129; May, 2004, Mary N. Oluonye, review of Who Am I without Him?, p. 147; October, 2005, Ginny Gustin, review of Bang!, p. 160.
New York Public Library Web site, http://www.nypl.org/ (July 18, 2002), transcript of live chat with Flake.
Sharon G. Flake Home Page, http://www.sharongflake.com (December 1, 2005).