02) Brown Girl Dreaming

By: Jacqueline Woodson

Date Finished: 01.09.17

by Jacqueline Woodson

Will the words end, I ask
whenever I remember to.

Nope, my sister says, all of five years old now,
and promising me

infinity.

As Jacqueline Woodson writes, “It’s easier to make up stories than it is to write them down.” Presently, it is easier for me to say, “Just read it; you’ll understand,” than to explain what makes this book so good. But I will try to give you something.

One, it’s beautiful. The story is told through a series of free verse poems. This structure lends a kind of buoyancy* to the tale so that while the subject matter is not always light the writing will keep you supported.

Two, Woodson masterfully says so much with so little (a clear advantage to poetry). She packs quite the emotional punch by describing the impact of events more than the events themselves. With just the right details, she shows how tragedy can alter a person. With just the right imagery, she makes you feel the difference between the sudden and the inevitable; she tightens the tension between the inevitable and the equitable.

Three, it adeptly captures the perspective of a child. This is non-fiction but there is little commentary on the events. The window through which we see Woodson’s world is that of a child standing on tiptoe to reach the sill and not of an adult stooping to look down.

Finally, the cultural context of the segregation cannot be overlooked. From the beginning there’s a theme of “emancipated but not free” when speaking of her family and her heritage. “So there’s a war going on in South Carolina,” Woodson writes, “and even as we play and plant and preach and sleep, we are a part of it.” She explores the different types of protests without making judgments on what is better or more effective. She keeps observing and listening and telling stories until she finds her own way to make a difference. This book is a textbook on resilience, not just in herself but in her community. And this book is vital for spreading the empathy and compassion we desperately need right now.

At the end of the day: Absolutely for me

*This word felt right although I couldn’t explain why. I looked it up on Merriem-Webster to make sure I wasn’t forcing a metaphor that wasn’t there and found this definition: “buoyancy: the ability of someone or something to continue to be happy, strong, etc., through difficult times.” That definition could be the entire review.

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2 thoughts on “02) Brown Girl Dreaming

  1. A few years ago, she was the keynote speaker at Tweens Read, the local book fest for 4th-8th graders. I went with Alex. Imagine an auditorium packed with tweens…at least 1500 kids, maybe closer to 2,000. Kids are not quiet. There was a dull roar in the auditorium as people spoke, even as Woodson herself was talking. Her talk was amazingly detailed, funny and encouraging. The only thing she said that I really remember: “I was a liar. I lied about everything. My teacher told me that if I wrote my lies down, they became fiction.”

    But the best part was this: She quoted relevant passages from Brown Girl Dreaming as part of her speech. When she did, the entire auditorium was quiet. The only sound was Woodson’s voice. As soon as the passage ended, the talking among the kids began again. This happened over and over again. When she was quoting this book, she had the full attention of every person in that room. All 1500+ tweens, their parents/chaperones, even the tiny kids in the room. It was awesome- in the true definition of the word (awe inspiring).

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