“I am born not long from the time
or far from the place
where my great-great-grandparents
worked the deep rich land
dawn till dusk
drank cool water from scooped-out gourds
looked up and followed
the sky’s mirrored constellation
Set during the 1960s and 70s, alternating between subdued South Carolina and hectic New York, Woodson’s memoir-style writing tells of her struggles living under Jim Crow laws and dealing with her family issues — her parents’ marital troubles, feeling inferior to her siblings, and her law-breaking uncles. When I began reading this book I questioned the simple writing and uneven verses. But within a few pages I was hooked. The verses formed a rhythmic beat. Moments passed, and I was immersed in her world.
Brown Girl Dreaming takes on complex themes of diversity, from Woodson’s blooming friendship with the Puerto Rican girl next door, to being shunned for following her strict Jehovah’s Witnesses religion that others don’t understand — no birthday parties or celebrations, not even being able to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
Writing from the viewpoint of a young girl growing up in the segregated parts of southern and northern United States, Woodson relays a new perspective on racism, from simple things such as not sitting at the front of the bus simply because it is “easier . . . than having white folks look at me like I’m dirt” to being “ready to die . . . for everything you believe in”.
“We are not afraid to die, Maria and I shout, fists high,
for what we believe in.
But both of us know — we’d rather keep believing
Jacqueline’s expressive verses describe the distance she feels from her father, the petty sibling rivalry, and the adults who are just as confused as she is. Ultimately she realizes the rich happiness, fulfillment, and dignity that her family and her religion provide. Her passion for writing and love for her family are the sources of her growth.
Her struggles may not seem relatable at first, but her account of feeling halfway important makes this story universal. She describes cozy nights with family talking about those who don’t understand them, staying up late with the kids on the street, but feeling like an outsider walking to school the next morning.
Spanning the early years of her adolescent life, brimming with nostalgia for the past, this book deals with the politics and racial issues of Woodson’s childhood. Brown Girl Dreaming gave me a glimpse back into my youth; a chance to recollect my memories of family, friends, and love. Her experiences brought back my own: hot, tireless, summer nights, the taste of pancakes on a Saturday morning, cold glasses of lemonade swishing down my throat — feelings of living.
Suitable for all those craving an authentic and colorful collection of verse, I gave Brown Girl Dreaming 4 out of 5 stars. Woodson effectively describes feelings everyone knows too well — feelings of exclusion and being a stranger. The way she is affected by racism opens up new doors to those who have never directly experienced it, offering a unique perspective.
However, a reader may leave feeling although no true story has been told. Brown Girl Dreaming tells an interesting tale of a young girl growing up, but without a story line or plot — a key part of any story. The absence of a plot leaves the book without a path, but Woodson’s experiences guide the reader through the importance of faith, hope, and standing up for what you believe in.
Although Woodson’s writing style may be initially hard to follow, it will prove to capture your attention. Her deeply personal and honest portrayal of her childhood make this a story worth reading.
Meera Bhalla is an 11th grader living in Rockville, Maryland. In her free time she enjoys writing, hiking, skiing, playing the piano, and hanging out with her dog.
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