Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014. 337 pages.
What It Is: autobiographical novel-in-verse
What It’s About: Young Jackie Woodson grows updating the tumultuous sixties, born in Ohio, living in South Carolina, and ending up in Brooklyn. Quite a range of locales, particularly given the time period for a young African American! Woodson eloquently recounts her different experiences, her family struggles as her mother leaves her father, and her close relationships with her grandparents. She longs for home, but doesn’t always know where home is.
What Works: The form! This is a stunning example of a novel-in-verse for which the poetry tremendously enhances the storyline. Woodson has such a way with words. Imagery, emotion, action–it’s all here.
What Doesn’t Work: Not much! There’s a reason this book garnered so much praise and so many awards when it first came out.
What I Think/Recommend: This is a fantastic title to use with a number of studies: poetry, Civil Rights, autobiography, African American studies, etc. It would be an excellent read aloud or audio book with the right narrator. Its length might scare some non-readers off, but the poetic form makes for a quick read. I’d recommend it for upper middle grades; there’s some “meat” here that younger readers might not grasp.
Woodson is raised Jehovah’s Witness by her maternal grandmother, and she reflects a good bit on this. She gravitates to the new Islamic faith her uncle acquires from his time in prison (coinciding with the Black Power movement). Helpful to know, depending on the religious affiliation of your family/school!