Thursday, December 4, 2014

Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson

Oh, my. This is a simply beautiful book. Books written in verse aren't for everyone, but I tend to like them because the emotion is concentrated and the language precise. I didn't say "verse novels," because this isn't a novel. It's a memoir.

I think most writer/bookworm types are naturally drawn to a book about how a writer grows. To view the writing through a wider lens, it's about a girl finding her voice and her purpose. It's also about encouragement: I as a reader find myself a bit breathless at the fact that Jacqueline Woodson said, and told herself, that she wanted to be a writer from a very young age, and she did it. Oh, how she did it. And to broaden the scope even more, it's very much about the African-American experience in the days of the struggle for civil rights and beyond.

There are surprising bits, such as Woodson's upbringing as a Jehovah's Witness, and gut-punching bits, such as her younger brother lying in bed at night, eating paint chips off the walls. There are arresting lines, such as "Even Salome intrigues us, her wish for a man's head / on a platter -- who could want this and live / to tell the story of that wanting?" and lines that raise ire, such as her mother's warning concerning storytelling: "If you lie, one day you'll steal." As a matter of fact, I don't reject that statement in general; I think lying is a form of stealing; it's theft of the truth. But the claim, even by writers (about which I have ranted in the past), that storytelling is lies just makes me all kinds of crazy. Tell that to Jesus or to Nathan the prophet.

Although I'd like to know what Jackie's siblings did with their lives as well, we don't find that out. However, the book cries out for photos and that cry is answered; they're included in the back.

There aren't many books, when it comes right down to it, that should become required reading; this is one of them. Highly, highly, highly recommended.

10 comments:

Vijaya said...

Oh, Marcia, what a lovely review! It makes me want to run to the library right now!!! Tomorrow, tomorrow! I didn't know she wanted to be a writer when she was a young girl. I am sooooo pleased she won the NBA!!!

Leandra Wallace said...

I really want to read this, and novels in verse aren't always my cup of tea, but this sounds so good. And that's a neat tid-bit about the pictures in the back!

Marcia said...

Vijaya -- Yes, do get your hands on it!

Leandra -- A lot of reviews have said how perfect the choice of verse was for this memoir, and I'm hoping to understand more why this is so. I mean, it works, but why verse would be so fitting in *this* instance isn't quite clear to me. A poet, I am not!

DMS said...

I have read a couple of novels in verse and enjoyed them. I have heard good things about this book, but I learned so much from your review. Glad to hear you loved it and highly recommend it. I can't wait to check it out!
~Jess

Emily R. King said...

Sounds like a lovely, heart wrenching read. Thanks for the review!

Marcia said...

Jess -- It's great that you're excited for it!

Emily -- It is, and you're welcome. :)

Andrea Mack said...

A lovely review. I haven't read this one yet but it is definitely on my list.

Medeia Sharif said...

I enjoy books in verse. I've had my eye on this for awhile. I'm sure I'll read it.

cleemckenzie said...

I love a well-written book in verse. Thanks for telling us about this one.

Marcia said...

Andrea -- I'm sure it's on a lot of TBR piles right now. :)

Medeia -- I enjoy books in verse, too. Even people who don't are loving this.

Lee -- It's really getting raves. Richly deserved NBA.