Sunday, September 14, 2014

Review - Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming
by Jacqueline Woodson
Date: 2014
Publisher: Penguin Books
Reading level: MG
Book type: verse memoir
Pages: 336
Format: e-book
Source: library

Jacqueline Woodson, one of today's finest writers, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing 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.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

When I first started this book -- in fact, for about the first half of it -- I was pretty bored.  Not much seemed to be happening, though the writing did invoke a sense of place and time.  That was probably what kept me going.  In the latter part of the book, as Jacqueline grows older and begins to understand more about the world around her (and her place in it), the story becomes much more interesting.  I suspect that's because those parts were based on her own memory, rather than other people's recollections.

The years covered in the book were a time of great change.  Segregation was over, but prejudice remained.  The Civil Rights movement was in full swing.  Feminism was coming to the forefront.  The Vietnam War was going on.  On top of all that, Jacqueline's family went through many changes.  They moved around quite a bit, from city to country to city again.  Family members died, new ones were born, some walked into their life, others walked out, new friends came into the picture, new teachers became encouraging voices...

As an adult, I found the book weirdly nostalgic in places, though I'm neither black nor a child of the 1960s.  Some parts of childhood remained constant for a long time, at least until recently: hopscotch and jump-rope with friends, songs on the radio, old-fashioned board games, treats that cost less than a dollar...  And then there were the parts of Jacqueline's childhood that were foreign to me, but that I could picture so well from her descriptions: hair ribbons and hot irons, Maria's mother's cooking, the red dirt roads around her grandparents' home, the lingering unease after the end of segregation in the South.  Jacqueline's family members came alive on the pages, and when I looked over the family photos at the back of the book, I wasn't really surprised by many of them; they looked pretty much as I'd pictured them in my mind.

While I did end up enjoying the story, I wasn't all that crazy about the writing.  It wasn't bad, but I didn't like all the comma splices.  Yes, it is a verse novel, but I would've rather seen more line breaks than the comma splices (the author used both in her verse... which seemed a little weird).  I'm also not sold on the use of italics to set off dialogue.  Alice Hoffman used the same technique in Incantation, and I thought it was kind of pretentious.  What's wrong with good old quotation marks?

In all, though, I did enjoy this book, though I think the intended audience might find it a little bit boring and intimidating -- and might give up on it before they get to the best parts.  And I have to say, I really like that cover.  The combination of colours plus the silhouette make it really beautiful.  I would recommend this one, but maybe to teenagers or adults; I can't see it being that appealing to younger readers, even though the main character is a child.

Quotable moment:

The walk home from the candy lady's house
is a quiet one
except for the sound of melting ice cream
being slurped up
fast, before it slides past our wrists,
on down our arms and onto
the hot, dry road.

Recommended to: older fans of American historical fiction

Plot: 4/5
Characters: 5/5
Pace: 3/5
Writing & Editing: 3/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall Rating: 3.71 out of 5 ladybugs


  1. I'm surprised that you rated this book so high given that you were bored for 50% of it, but good writing, and great characters often have a way of winning a reader over. However, the fact that the author failed to reach her target audience in your opinion is kind of a let down. I'm not quite sure what to make of this one in all honesty.

    1. Now you've got me thinking: I'm not sure who decides what age category the book falls into; it might be the publisher and not the author. Had I gone into it thinking it was YA or even adult, I might have cut it a bit more slack in the beginning. But I was expecting it to be able to hold a middle-grader's interest, and I didn't think it would... so that coloured my opinion of the book somewhat.

  2. Wow! I was beginning to think that I was the only reader in the world that found the book boring lol. I love poetry and was looking forward to reading this book after I heard how great it was but I actually didn't finish (I have a hardcover book too). I will try to read it some other time, but I would have given up even quicker if I hadn't heard such accolades about the book and author. I am Black, and though I'm not a child of the 60s either it just didn't connect with me at all. She's a good writer, I wish the story moved a bit more. I don't know, there was just something missing here for me.

    And I agree- definitely not for young readers in my opinion. This is more the type of book that adults praise, and children view as a snooze fest (not being mean here but I worked in the school system for years and saw many of the award-winners being skipped over for more exciting reads).

    1. Yeah, I know I was not a fan of those award-winning books when I was a kid. I've read and enjoyed many of them as an adult, though. I think there's a bit of a disconnect between adult and child readers sometimes; their tastes are often very different!