Last year, my sister bought me the young adult memoir-in-verse, Brown Girl Dreaming. And then it went on to win the National Book Award for young readers! Hooray! I have been meaning to read it again and again, and something else got in the way. So when I was at my conference, chilling in my hotel room, I decided to pull out the audio copy I had borrowed from the library and listen to it. It was a good choice.
Jacqueline Woodson covers her birth and early years, when her family moves from Ohio to South Carolina in the midst of the Civil Rights movement in the United States. Her parents get a divorce, and her family joins the Jehovah’s Witnesses. She witnesses several race crimes and experiences a tension fraught with being black and American. Throughout the way is Woodson’s discovery of herself, her family ties, and her quest to find herself as a young woman and a writer. The memoir ends while she is still a child, so there is still much room for a sequel, or two, only if Woodson is inclined, obviously. The cadence and rhythms are delightful, and Woodson’s own voice reading her work brings a lovely sense of personal nuance to the words she has written.
I found the novel-in-verse to be a short but highly meaningful read. Woodson chooses her words carefully and makes you feel the impact of each one. That’s the effectiveness that poetry can hold over a reader, and I love the idea of novel-in-verse, since it can excite children to reading other genres of text and make them more sophisticated readers.