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In any work of literature, the setting is an important element of the story which helps to set the scene and establish the mood and atmosphere around which characters develop and the plot progresses. The setting includes not only the physical location or place but the time period and the social context in which it takes place. Understanding the impact of these factors on the characters makes the story believable and improves the flow.
In The Skin I'm In by Sharon Flake, Maleeka Madison is a seventh-grade student who is coming to terms with her own identity and with how others see her. She struggles to separate herself from certain opinions which then dominate her belief in herself and confound her attempts to have a positive self-image. The book was published in 2000 but the difficulties Maleeka has with establishing her identity are relevant to any time period and give the book its universal appeal.
McClenton Middle School is the name of Maleeka's school, and, in terms of the social context, it becomes clear from various interactions throughout the story that most of the students are African-American, living in an urban area, a bus trip away from Washington D.C. which the reader knows because it was on a trip to Washington D.C. when Caleb did not step in to stop the other children teasing Maleeka. Maleeka's mother makes Maleeka's clothes and Maleeka dislikes this because she stands out as being poor.
Caleb is different from the other boys and sees something special in Maleeka. The reader also knows that Caleb and his father volunteer at a local homeless shelter at weekends and that there is an old-age home. This reveals a community atmosphere in terms of the setting.
The setting of the story is a large urban area in a poor neighborhood. I doubt there was a specific city mentioned as this setting repeats itself in most large cities. There is always a neighborhood marked by poverty. That neighborhood would be served by a school that is substandard in building, clientele, materials, and often staff. The point is, that this story is repeated throughout the US and is not necessarily a New York or Chicago story. There is prejudice within racial groups; there is a lack of parental involvement and a push for education that hinders many students in poverty. The story is universal in its scope.
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