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!