Book Review – Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

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Title: Brown Girl Dreaming
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books
Genre: Poetry, memoir, middle-grade, nonfiction, #ownvoices

I very rarely read books written in verse, but when I do, I am usually pleasantly surprised. Brown Girl Dreaming is a memoir written in verse form. The whole middle-grade book is written in simple, free verse poems.

Simple, but astoundingly beautiful. Succinct is probably a more apt description than simple. At times, heartbreaking. And absolutely and without a doubt, there is more there than meets the eye.

ghosts

In downtown Greenville,
they painted over the WHITE ONLY signs,
except on the bathroom doors,
they didn’t use a lot of paint
so you can still see the words, right there
like a ghost standing in front
still keeping you out.

Jacqueline Woodson won the National Book Award in 2014 for Brown Girl Dreaming. Her book was also a Newbery Honor Book, and winner of the Coretta Scott King Award. She deserves all of the accolades, and more.

Brown Girl Dreaming is largely about Jacqueline’s childhood, from her early childhood years in the 1960s in Greenville, South Carolina through her family’s move to NYC and her elementary school years, when she first discovered her interest in writing. I loved hearing her stories from Greenville, when she lived with her mom, siblings, and grandparents. Her grandfather became a father-figure to her, and her love for her grandparents and their importance in her life is a big part of her story.

Don’t be fooled that this is just a memoir. Woodson delves into everything from the Civil Rights movement, to moving from Ohio, to the Jim Crow American South, to New York. From race to religion, she does not sugarcoat what it is like to grow up black in the 1960s and 70s, both in the South and the North.

This is a book for everyone. But most especially, Brown Girl Dreaming is a book for elementary and middle-school aged girls. Girls who may not have an easy time at home. Girls who are PoC. Girls who may not fit the typical academic mold. Girls who don’t think of themselves as great because they don’t fit the typical academic mold. For any and all of the above type of girls, this is a must-read.

Yes, you can speed through this book in one sitting, as fast as my husband’s family consumes our Thanksgiving dinner. But, the book is much better suited to the Slow Food movement: pace yourself, slowly and thoughtfully, as you read and digest her words.

Deep winter and the night air is cold. So still,

it feels like the world goes on forever in the darkness

until you look up and the earth stops

in a ceiling of stars. My head against

my grandfather’s arm,

a blanket around us as we sit on the front porch swing.

Its whine like a song.

You don’t need words

on a night like this. Just the warmth

of your grandfather’s arm. Just the silent promise

that the world as we know it

will always be here.

 Rating: 5/5 stars

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Top Ten Tuesday: All-Time Favorite Dystopian Books

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosting by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic  choosing your top ten favorite books of all time. I have decided to keep it fairly broad, and will list my all-time favorite dystopian books. 

These are not in any particular order. That is asking too much!

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  1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I first discovered this gem in an undergrad women’s lit course, and it has been a firm favorite ever since.

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2. 1984 by George Orwell. 1984 has come and gone, but this book has definite staying power.

 

3 & 4. Cress and Winter by Marissa Meyer – Cinder does not make my top ten dystopian novels, but later books in the series certainly do. I am still surprised at how these books have turned me into a fangirl.

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5. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood – I love everything she writes, and it is quite hard not to fill this list just with Atwood’s books! This is my favorite of the MaddAddam trilogy.

6, 7 & 8. The Hunger Games, Mockingjay, and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins – These have to be included together. I loved all three of them!

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9. Blindness by José Saramago – It is rare that a dystopian author ends up with a Nobel Prize for Literature. That is how I discovered this book, from a Nobel Prize reading challenge. It is incredible (and incredibly chilling)!

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10. The Giver by Lois Lowry – I have read The Giver quite a few times over the years, and I always get something new out of it.