Title: Brown Girl Dreaming
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Publisher: Nancy Paulson Books, 2014. 336 pages
A novel in verse. Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.
Though the summary calls it a novel in verse, my understanding is that Brown Girl Dreaming is in fact a memoir. In any case, it is a moving story, gradually unfolding through the spare free-verse poems that make up the book. Beginning with the author's birth in Columbus, Ohio, each poem tells a key bit of what made young Jacqueline who she was. From South to North and back again, through Jacqueline's eyes the Civil Rights era comes to life in a whole new way.
Each poem is written in the present tense, and the voice is, after the baby years, one appropriate to the child, reflecting both the understanding of the child and the greater understanding of the adult now writing the book. And gradually the story unfolds, and in the end, we understand a great deal more about what created the author.
For older elementary and up. The story has a great deal of life in it, and not all of that life is easy to understand or accept. I'd say from maybe age 10 or 11 useful conversations could come out of it; younger kids might find it all a bit bewildering.
Full Disclosure: I checked Brown Girl Dreaming out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."