Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson
If I told you that Brown Girl Dreaming is a memoir written in poetry, would that make you feel uneasy? If I said that it’s the story of a black girl growing up in the era of Civil Rights, would you feel that you’ve read it before? If I mentioned that it falls within the Young Adult category, would that turn off those of you who prefer mature reads?
Whatever your assumptions about this book, put them aside. This is far and away one of the best books of 2014, a fact that has been proclaimed by everyone from the National Book Award judges to the bloggers at Book Riot. With Brown Girl Dreaming, you’re in for an entirely new reading experience. And I promise it’s one you—along with the young people in your life—will enjoy and appreciate.
Within the first page or two, you’ll forget you’re reading verse. As you take in Woodson’s childhood, her close-knit relationship with her grandparents, her difficult move from South Carolina to New York, her first-hand experiences with the Civil Rights movement, her development as a writer, and her search for herself, you’ll lose yourself in the elegant, easygoing lines. Her writing is utterly smooth and accessible and yet artfully loaded with meaning and style:
New York, my mother says.
Soon, I’ll find us a place there. Come back
and bring you all home.
. . .
And I imagine her standing
in the middle of a road, her arms out
fingers pointing North and South.
I want to ask: Will there always be a road?
Will there always be a bus?
Will we always have to choose
Her renderings of racial prejudice are especially powerful:
In downtown Greenville,
they painted over the WHITE ONLY signs,
except on the bathroom doors,
they didn’t use a lot of paint
so you can still see the words, right there
like a ghost standing in front
still keeping you out.
Though she’s confronting serious issues and exploring profound ideas, Woodson manages to speak in a voice that plausibly belongs to a young girl. It’s an amazing accomplishment, and it’s what gives Brown Girl Dreaming its broad appeal. This is a book I want my 13-year-old son to read and maybe my 10-year-old daughter. If we can read it in tandem, it will be an ideal conversation starter about history, race, self-discovery, writing, and literature.
If you’re open to the idea, this gorgeous book begs to be read aloud. Not only will Brown Girl Dreaming make you view poetry in a whole new light; it might just make you love it.