The Skin I’m In


Sharon Flake

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The Skin I’m In Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Sharon Flake's The Skin I’m In. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Sharon Flake

Sharon G. Flake was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in December 24, 1955 and is the fifth of six siblings. She attended the University of Pittsburgh and graduated in 1978 with a BA in English. In the year after college, Flake worked as a house parent at a youth shelter outside of Pittsburgh. Over the next eight years, she was a counselor for teens at a foster placement agency and wrote for local publications in her spare time. Flake then got a job at the University of Pittsburgh in the PR department and worked there for 18 years while continuing her writing career. She had a daughter, Brittney, in 1991 and wrote her first full-length young adult novel, The Skin I’m In, in 1998. Flake has written nine novels, several short stories, plays, and a picture book. She is the recipient of numerous awards, such as the Coretta Scott King Honor and the YWCA Racial Justice Award. Flake currently lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
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Historical Context of The Skin I’m In

The Skin I’m In takes place in an unnamed city in the late 1990s, and Flake makes a few references to McClenton being an “inner-city” school. McClenton Middle School, which protagonist Maleeka attends, reflects the state of many urban school districts across the country, which results from decades-long demographic shifts and government policies. While American schools became officially desegregated in 1954, this resulted in many wealthy white Americans leaving cities for the suburbs or opting to send their children to private schools, while poorer urban districts primarily made up of minority students had few resources. Due to these conditions, many schools in the late 1990s (like McClenton in the novel) continued to be racially and socioeconomically homogenous. Additionally, teachers’ salaries were more competitive in wealthier schools, so many of the best teachers left for wealthier districts. This is why Flake illustrates the positive impact that high-quality teachers like Miss Saunders can have on lower-income and minority students, highlighting the benefit of providing all children with the same opportunities.

Other Books Related to The Skin I’m In

Flake has written many other books that speak to the experience of Black young adults, including Money Hungry (2001), Begging for Change (2003), Bang! (2004), The Broken Bike Boy and the Queen of 33rd Street (2007), Pinned (2012), and Unstoppable Octobia May (2014). Other contemporary books about Black teenagers include Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give, Ibi Zoboi’s American Street, Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds’s All American Boys, and Renée Watson’s Piecing Me Together. The Skin I’m In also references Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which protagonist Maleeka reads in her English class. Outside of class, Miss Saunders gives Maleeka a book called Life of a Slave Girl to help with a writing assignment, which is likely a reference to Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl—Harriet Jacobs’s 1861 autobiography about her time as a slave. Contemporary fiction books that follow young slave women include Marlon James’s The Book of Night Women, Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad.
Key Facts about The Skin I’m In
  • Full Title: The Skin I’m In
  • When Written: 1995–1998
  • Where Written: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • When Published: 1998
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Young Adult Novel
  • Setting: McClenton Middle School; an unnamed city in the late 1990s
  • Climax: Maleeka admits Charlese forced her to vandalize Miss Saunders’s room
  • Antagonist: Charlese Jones
  • Point of View: First Person

Extra Credit for The Skin I’m In

Dedication and Inspiration. Flake credits her daughter, Brittney, with beginning her writing career: she dedicates The Skin I’m In to Brittney and says that she was the inspiration for writing the book.

A New Point of View. Flake is currently writing The Life I’m In, a companion novel to The Skin I’m In, written from the perspective of Charlese, the antagonist of The Skin I’m In.