I picked up Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson because of its National Book Award honor. I did not know much else beyond that. I did not, for example, know that it was written entirely in verse until I flipped to the first page. Nor did I know it was a memoir.
This is a strong story. It is grounded and beautiful. It tells the story of Woodson’s childhood stretched between the idea of home in New York and that of South Carolina from her birth to the ages of about 9 or 10. Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s North and South, Woodson describes the reality of living through the civil rights movement as seen through the eyes of a child. It is a touching book about the fierce love and pride one feels for one’s family and the deep connection that no amount of space or time can sever. It is also the tale of a girl’s budding passion for language, words, and their arrangement: the desire to spin stories.
It is a difficult book to describe, both memoir and ballad, both history and song. I also hesitate to say too much about the plot, so to speak. Half the pleasure is in letting each unfamiliar verse unravel and delight. It is not enough to simply say that Woodson had an interesting life. There was so much richness to her family life and her recollection of that time. There are moments of loss, sadness, and startling clarity, even at such a young age, but also pure joy and such deep love. The insights of young Woodson are fascinating to take in, truly hearing and seeing with the eyes and ears of babes. Woodson’s poetry is eloquent and vibrant, a complete pleasure. It is a very quick read, but its message and words have a deep staying power. If you have the chance, do give it a read. I recommend it.
Until next time!
When Maureen Johnson writes a thriller, she is in no rush to get to the end and soothe you. She pulls you along at a near infuriating pace, perhaps assessing your anxiety with an amused grin. She must know she has you hook, line, and sinker. The stakes are high and yet she tantalizes you with glimpses of information and other tasty morsels. Bless her. Despite my impatience, she knows how to put together a compelling read.
The Shadow Cabinet is the third book in the Shades of London series. Please keep in mind this is a series and since this is the third novel, there may be some spoilers in here if you have not read the previous installments.
The book picks up right where we left off in The Madness Underneath: Stephen’s dead, Rory is “missing,” having run away from her private school Wexford after being expelled, and prefect Charlotte has been presumably kidnapped by a bunch of sight-having and dangerous witchy weirdos.
It is not uncommon that much of America’s unseemly past is often swept under the rug. People are not fond of confronting what deeply misguided, narrow-minded, and flat out misinformed gits our forefathers could be (not all of them, of course, but an upsetting majority). Therefore, when an author attempts to take on that unhappy history and makes readers reassess aspects of our past and present, well I would consider that novel a rousing success. And I am not alone in this thought. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. I: The Pox Party by M. T. Anderson won the National Book Award in 2006 for its engaging and innovative storytelling and eerie take on American history.
In all fairness, I did not have any idea what this book was about going into it, which I think may be the best way to read it, a contrary concept considering this is a review. So if you would like to go into this novel completely blank, stop reading here. Just take my word that this is a magnificent, engaging, and heartbreaking novel and you will not regret reading it. If my word is not enough, please read on!
The novel takes place in an America on the cusp of revolution, where freedom is on the lips of many but not necessarily prepared to be given to all. Octavian is an African prince, brought to the new world in his princess mother’s belly, forced by unfortunate circumstances into bondage, but a curious bondage. Octavian’s mother was purchased by the Novanglian College of Lucidity, a collective of philosophers and scientists in eighteenth century Boston, Massachusetts. Together, the scholars raise the boy with his mother. He’s given a classical education, taught Latin and Greek, taught about science and observation. He practices the violin and his mother takes up the harpsichord. His childhood is thick with memories of his beautiful and witty mother entertaining scholars and guests of the college in her salon. Octavian goes through his lessons, for all he can tell treated as the prince he is, dressed in silks, but unknowing of his true status in the house until he opens a forbidden door detailing the ghastly nature of his residence in that household, namely, that of specimen.