What can I say about this book?
It's a series of prose-y poems that Jacqueline Woodson wrote about her own life, her memories of the years she spent growing up in South Carolina and Brooklyn in the 1960s and '70s. It's hopeful, reflective, a little sad, and full of the wonder she felt as she discovered the words and stories she had inside.
Honesty time: Poetry is not my jam. I know it probably makes me a big lame-o to admit it, but most of the time I'd just rather not with poetry. I've always liked to read fast. To be a good reader of poetry, you must be okay with reading slowly. That, or you have to be okay with missing a lot. For me, attempts at poetry reading usually involve inhaling the stanzas like I'm at a pie-eating contest at a county fair and then feeling ripped off that I couldn't taste the fruit. You know, because I was distracted by trying to cram as much down my gullet as possible.
Dense texts make me a little tiny bit homicidal, is what I'm saying, and poetry is the densest of the dense. So in general, we keep a wary distance from each other.
But this book. THIS book! This book can make a poetry believer even out of a pie-eater like me.
One of my favorite moments comes from page 269, when Jacqueline makes up a song on the bus. When her sister asks what she's singing, she replies that she made it up. Her sister doesn't believe her, saying she couldn't have, it's too good. “I don't say anything back. Just look out the window and smile. Too good, I am thinking. The stuff I make up is too good.”
If that doesn't hit you right in the artistic solar plexus, I don't know what will.
On page 229, when she tells her family that she wants to be a writer, and they say, “Maybe you should be a teacher,” I swear my heart hopped out of my chest and flopped around on the floor for a while. I had to take a few deep breaths before I could tuck it back in.
So don't be turned off that this isn't a book of standard prose. Don't shy away because it's marketed for middle graders and you're on the shaded side of 42. Don't skip over it because it has the phrase “brown girl” in the title and you're a mustachioed man of the Caucasian persuasion. This book is beautiful, and it's for everyone. Buy it, read it, and taste the freakin' fruit.