The Skin I'm In (20th Anniversary Edition)


By Sharon Flake

Foreword by Jason Reynolds

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 16, 2018. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Sharon Flake's award-winning debut novel, repackaged with a new cover just in time for it's 20th anniversary!

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?


Also by Sharon G. Flake


Who Am I Without Him?

You Don’t Even Know Me

Money Hungry

Begging for Change

Copyright © 1998 by Sharon G. Flake Cover design by Christian Fuenfhausen Cover photo © 1998 by Mark Havriliak

All rights reserved. Published by Disney • Jump at the Sun, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Disney • Jump at the Sun, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023.

ISBN 978-1-4231-3251-6


To my daughter Brittney Banks,

my sweet brown beauty.

I love you.

And to my editor,

Andrea Davis Pinkney,

for believing!


There are gifts we give to mark moments. Gifts that come with meaning attached. Sometimes they come in the form of a piece of jewelry—a gold chain, a special ring, a new charm for an old bracelet. Or an heirloom left behind by a lost loved one. For me, these milestone markers are books, and none have been given more often than Sharon Flake’s The Skin I’m In.

I come from a family of women. My mother, one of three sisters, was the only one to have sons. Everyone else, including my older sister, had daughters. There came a natural (though complex) window where it seemed as though all the young ladies in my family—my little cousins, goddaughters, nieces—were all approaching puberty around the same time. These little girls, plaits and ponytails, crooked smiles, wrapped in beautiful brown skin, suddenly all seemed to walk with heavy feet, with rolled shoulders. They seemed to mouse their voices, tamp a familiar moxie, and fold into themselves in ways that felt like they were trying to hide.

But who were they hiding from?

This was always the question I asked, the question they would never answer, and that I, in fear of overstepping, left alone. But while working in a bookstore at nineteen, I came across this novel. The cover a tight shot of a black girl with glossy ebony skin. I read it in one sitting while manning the register, and realized this gem was going to be given to every young girl in my family. I would make it their Christmas presents, that way it would be less heavy-handed, less intrusive. Because there’s nothing a young girl hates more than her older male cousin telling her how to feel. And for good reason.

Thankfully, now these girls had Maleeka.

She gave them a place to put their secrets. Gave them a homegirl to lean on. She told them it was okay to be who they were, to look how they looked, to feel how they felt. Maleeka was a reminder that not only were their experiences valid, their existence was valuable.

As much as my cousins, goddaughters, and nieces needed this book fifteen years ago, it may be even more necessary now. With social media becoming a primary form of communication (or miscommunication), young people have never compared themselves to other people more than they do today. They’ve never scrutinized what others see as flaws, or had to combat phantom bullies as they do now. And the internet isn’t going anywhere. Social media isn’t going anywhere. So we’re fortunate—extremely fortunate—that The Skin I’m In is also here to stay. Before incredible movements and monikers like Black Girls Rock, Black Girl Magic, and Well-Read Black Girl, there was The Skin I’m In, which is not just a book, but a platform for young people—especially the Maleekas of the world—to stand on, chin up, shoulders back, voices lifted, beaming.

THE FIRST TIME I SEEN HER, I got a bad feeling inside. Not like I was in danger or nothing. Just like she was somebody I should stay clear of. To tell the truth, she was a freak like me. The kind of person folks can’t help but tease. That’s bad if you’re a kid like me. It’s worse for a new teacher like her.

Miss Saunders is as different as they come. First off, she got a man’s name, Michael. Now who ever heard of a woman named that? She’s tall and fat like nobody’s business, and she’s got the smallest feet I ever seen. Worse yet, she’s got a giant white stain spread halfway across her face like somebody tossed acid on it or something.

I try not to stare the first day that amazon woman-teacher heads my way. See, I got a way of attracting strange characters. They draw to me like someone stuck a note on my forehead saying, “losers wanted here.” Well, I spend a lot of time trying to fit in here at McClenton Middle School. I ain’t letting nobody ruin it for me, especially no teacher.

I didn’t even look up when Miss Saunders came up to me that day like I’m some kind of information center.

“Excuse me,” she says. She’s wearing a dark purple suit, and a starched white shirt with matching purple buttons. That outfit costs three hundred dollars, easy. “I’m trying to find the principal’s office. I know it’s around here somewhere. Can you help me?”

Before I catch myself, my eyes ricochet like pin balls, bounding from John-John McIntyre’s beady brown eyes right up to hers. I swallow hard. Stare at her till John-John whacks me on the arm with his rolled-up comic book.

“That-a-way,” I say, pointing up the hall.

“Thank you. Now what’s your name?” she says, putting down her briefcase like she’s gonna stay here awhile.

“Maleeka. Maleeka Madison—the third,” I say, smacking my gum real loud.

“Don’t let that fancy name fool you,” John-John butts in. “She ain’t nobody worth knowing.”

Miss Saunders stares down at him till he turns his head away and starts playing with the buttons on his shirt like some two-year-old.

“Like I say, the office is that-a-way.” I point.

“Thank you,” she says, walking off. Then she stops stone still, like some bright idea has just come to her, turns around, and heads back my way. My skin starts to crawl before she even opens her mouth. “Maleeka, your skin is pretty. Like a blue-black sky after it’s rained and rained,” she says. Then she smiles and explains how that line comes from a favorite poem of hers. Next thing I know, she’s heading down the hall again like nothing much happened.

When she’s far enough away, John-John says to me, “I don’t see no pretty, just a whole lotta black.” Before I can punch him good, he’s singing a rap song. “Maleeka, Maleeka—baboom, boom, boom, we sure wanna keep her, baboom, boom, boom, but she so black, baboom, boom, boom, we just can’t see her.”

Before I know it, three more boys is pointing at me and singing that song, too. Me, I’m wishing the building will collapse on top of me.

John-John McIntyre is the smallest seventh grader in the world. Even fifth graders can see over his head. Sometimes I have a hard time believing he and me are both thirteen. He’s my color, but since second grade he’s been teasing me about being too black. Last year, when I thought things couldn’t get no worse, he came up with this here song. Now, here this woman comes talking that black stuff. Stirring him up again.

Seems like people been teasing me all my life. If it ain’t about my color, it’s my clothes. Momma makes them by hand. They look it, too—lopsided pockets, stitching forever unraveling. I never know when a collar’s gonna fall off, or a pushpin gonna stick me and make me holler out in class. I stopped worrying about that this year now that Charlese lends me clothes to wear. I stash them in the locker and change into them before first period. I’m like Superman when I get Charlese’s clothes on. I got a new attitude, and my teachers sure don’t like it none.

It’s bad enough that I’m the darkest, worst-dressed thing in school. I’m also the tallest, skinniest thing you ever seen. And people like John-John remind me of it every chance they get. They don’t say nothing about the fact that I’m a math whiz, and can outdo ninth graders when it comes to figuring numbers. Or that I got a good memory and never forget one single, solitary thing I read. They only see what they see, and they don’t seem to like what they see much.

Up till now, I just took it. The name calling. The pushing and shoving and cheating off me. Then last week something happened. I was walking down the hall in one of Char’s dresses, strutting my stuff, looking good. Then Char walked up to me and told me to take off her clothes. There was maybe eight or nine kids around when she said it, too, including Caleb. I thought she was kidding. She wasn’t. So I went to the girls’ room and put my own stuff back on. That’s when I made up my mind. Enough is enough. I deserve better than for people to treat me any old way they want. But saying that is one thing, making it happen is something else.

So you see, I got my own troubles. I don’t need no scar-faced teacher making things worse. But I got this feeling Miss Saunders is gonna mess things up for me real bad.

JOHN-JOHN THINKS HE SMART. I hear him still singing that boom-boom song under his breath. I don’t have to listen to it, either. So instead of going to fifth period and sitting next to him, I’m going outside. There’s plenty of kids hanging out around the corner at the pretzel place. I just have to get to my locker for my coat and slip out the backdoor. Soon as I get down the hall, though, who do I see but that woman. She’s all up in somebody else’s business already.

“Young lady,” she says to a girl leaning against the wall with a boy sucking on her neck. “Get to class.”

I turn to a locker like I’m trying to open it. When the girl turns Miss Saunders’s way, I almost choke on my spit. It’s Charlese. Man, the stuff’s gonna fly now. Charlese stares at Miss Saunders like she’s out of her mind. Then she laughs. I see Miss Saunders, crunching up her face, and cutting her eyes at Worm.

Worm busts out laughing and says, “Dang, who you? Somebody’s momma?”

“I’m the new English teacher.” Miss Saunders has got a real attitude when she says it, too.

“Shoot,” Char says. “I sure ain’t looking at that face forty-five minutes every day. No way.”

Worm puts his arm round Char’s shoulder. They walk down the hall right past me. “Dang. What happened to her?” he whispers. They head for the stairway to keep on locking lips.

“To class or to the office,” Miss Saunders calls after them real loud and steady.

Charlese looks at Miss Saunders and rolls her eyes.

Miss Saunders has got her hands on her hips. “You have something to say?”

Big mistake, lady, I’m thinking. Charlese is the baddest thing in this school. She ain’t gonna forgive you for loud-talking to her.

Charlese, she’s crazylike. Next thing I know, she’s telling Miss Saunders to mind her own business. She says something about her face. Worm’s telling Char to cool it. He’s dragging her down the hall with his hand covering her big mouth. The new teacher don’t know when to quit. She tells Worm to hold on a minute. Then she says her piece. She’s letting Charlese know that she’s traveled all over the world, and there’s nothing Charlese can say about her face that she ain’t heard in at least four different languages.

Char says, “If you’re so high and mighty, what’re you doing in a dump like this?”

Miss Saunders puts down her briefcase. When she does, her Gucci watch flashes. This lady’s got money. Big-time cash.

“I want to give something back,” Miss Saunders says.

“You want to give something back?” Charlese asks, putting out her hand. “Good. You can start by giving me them designer shoes and that three-hundred-dollar watch you got on.”

Charlese, she’s got an eye for the good stuff. Her older sister JuJu, who’s been taking care of Char since their parents died two years back, has got all kinds of stuff at her house. Most of it still got price tags on it. She’ll sell you a three-hundred-dollar pants suit for fifty dollars, or a nice coat for a Benjamin—a hundred bucks. Good deals if you got the dollars, which I ain’t. Char’s lucky. When my daddy died three years ago, Momma took to her sewing machine to help her ease the pain. I sure wish she’d taken to getting me clothes off a store rack, instead. Her sewing is a shame.

Worm tells Charlese to forget about Miss Saunders and to get outta here. Charlese don’t let the new broad off so easy.

“You don’t scare me,” she says, putting her hands on her hips, but before Miss Saunders can speak, here comes Tai, interrupting everything.

“I see you’ve met Charlese,” Tai says to Miss Saunders.

Tai teaches math. She is weird, too. She stands at the blackboard with one leg leaning on the other like a flamingo. She does yoga and hums like a heater on the blink. Tai is a strange chick, I’m telling you.

“I see you made it,” she says to Miss Saunders, grabbing both her arms and squeezing them tight in a friendly girl-to-girl squeeze.

Tai looks funny standing next to Miss Saunders, who must be close to six feet tall. Tai is short with long hair and two sets of silver hoop earrings in her ears, and a small hole in her nose where she puts her nose ring when she ain’t at work.

“We’re old college roommates,” she says to Charlese. “You will love having this woman around. She really makes things happen.”

I don’t know why Tai is telling all this to Charlese. She knows Charlese couldn’t care less. Tai and Miss Saunders head for the office. Tai tells Worm and Charlese to get to class.

“Sure, Tai,” Char says, all sweet and innocent.

When Char is halfway up the hall, Tai looks over her shoulder at me and says, “That goes for you, too, Miss Madison.”

WE’RE IN THE GIRLS’ ROOM—like always. For once, I’m really trying to pee, not just talk about folk. That’s hard in this school. Ain’t no doors on the stalls. The principal took them off himself, so everything we do is out in the open. Like that’s gonna stop girls from smoking cigarettes, writing on the walls, and cutting class.

Everybody’s talking about the new teacher. “Her face looks like somebody threw a hot pot of something on it,” Char says, frowning. “If I had a mug like that, I’d kill myself,” she says, lifting up her arms and smelling her pits. I want to tell her that if I had hair balls as big as basketballs growing under my arms like she does, I’d kill myself. But I don’t say what’s on my mind. I keep quiet.

“Just think, if that was your mother,” Raina, one of the twins, says.

“I wouldn’t even claim her if she was my moms,” Char says, taking out deodorant. Then she pulls up her shirt and reaches inside to roll that sticky blue stuff on.

The four of us meet in the bathroom every morning. Me, Char, and the twins—Raina and Raise. We talk. Smoke. Stuff like that. I hang in the bathroom to get out of Momma’s homemade rags and into the clothes Charlese brings for me to try on. Today, it’s a skintight navy-blue jean dress, with thick gold buttons.

Char says the dress would look perfect if I had some hips and boobs to go with it. Char blows a fat ring of stinking gray smoke in my face. I laugh, like everybody else. You got to go along with Char if you want to get along with her. You can’t be all sensitive. That’s what Char says.

When the first period bell rings, I throw my backpack over my shoulders and head for class. Char and them are cutting class. Hanging out around the corner, probably. “I ain’t for looking at that woman’s mug today,” Char says. “It’s enough to make you throw up.”


  • "Flake's debut novel will hit home . . . echoes universal brink-of-adolescence concerns."—Publishers Weekly
  • "Funny and clever . . . will pull readers into a world too rarely represented in middle-grade fiction."—Booklist
  • "Young teens will appreciate Flake's authenticity."—School Library Journal

On Sale
Oct 16, 2018
Page Count
192 pages

Sharon Flake

About the Author

Sharon G. Flake has an international reputation as a top author for children and young adults. Her breakout novel, The Skin I’m In, established her as a must-read author among middle and high school students, parents, and educators. She has spoken to more than two hundred thousand young people, and hugged nearly as many. Flake has penned nine novels, numerous short stories, plays, and a picture book entitled You Are Not a Cat.

Her work has received numerous awards, such as the Coretta Scott King Honor award and the YWCA Racial Justice Award, and her books have been named to many prestigious lists, including Kirkus Review’s Top Ten Books of the Year, Best Books for Young Adults by the American Library Association, Top Ten Books for the Teen Age by the New York Public Library, Top Twenty Recommended Books to Read by the Texas Library Association, 100 Books Every Teenage Girl Should Read, and Booklist Editor’s Choice, among others. She lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. For more information, go to, or follow her on Twitter @sharonflake.

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