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Book Review: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Retelling the story of her childhood, author Jacqueline Woodson reminisces about her childhood in South Carolin and New York.  In a series of prose-poems, Woodson talks about living in the remnants of Jim Corw and her burgeoning awareness of the Civil Rights movement.  Woodson captures the wonder of being a child and also showcases her own growing desire to be a writer.

Read just one page from Woodson’s evocative memoir of her childhood in the 60s and 70s and you’ll understand why the book is receiving heaps of praise, including a win  from the National Book Award.  Her mesmerizing verse captures the reader’s imagination immediately, transporting them to the time and place she inhabits as a child.  Vividly remembered and painstakingly realized, this is a career-defining book with appeal for both adults and children.

Part of what makes Woodson’s story so excellent is in her craft of it.  She mentions the big names of the times, including Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, but this story is really about her own family and their trials and tribulations.  The amount of care she has taken to adequately express the love she was surrounded by, especially with regard to her grandparents, is wholly moving.  There are brilliant details about growing up in the era, including getting her hair done on Sundays and avoiding segregated stores with her maternal grandmother, and these help flush out the story.

Woodson also navigates her childhood desire to become a writer, even while struggling with becoming a reader.  She documents  being gifted a notebook and her early attempts to tell stories and write books.  These bits should resonate with anyone who has ever wanted to be a storyteller, but there’s also broad appeal here for anyone who ever worked hard towards a goal.  It’s a love story to Woodson’s family, but it’s also a love story to the act of writing.

On the whole, this excellent, moving memoir is a can’t-be-missed.  There’s an immediacy to Woodson’s prose which makes it transcend time.  This is a must for library shelves all over.  Highly recommended.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.  Nancy Paulsen Books: 2014. Library copy.



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