Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson was chosen by my book club here in Golden. My friend Freida invited me to join last fall, and I like how they choose their books. Everyone suggest titles and then they vote, with the top 12 becoming the books for the year. When you host, you choose which of the remaining 12 will be read that month. I’m hosting this fall and chose All the Light We Cannot See.
I already had Brown Girl Dreaming on my ‘to read’ list as many friends and fellow-book-nerds in our Book Bingo group raved about it. Then I heard this interview with Woodson and Terri Gross. Even with those high expectations, I was blown away by Woodson’s writing.
It’s a memoir, which I love. It’s written in verse, which I love. Back when I taught poetry, my students and I would wrestling to form a definition of poetry. The best definition we came up with was: “saying the most with the least amount of words.” Woodson somehow captures the perspective of a young girl, the personalities of her family, and the intensity of the civil rights movement in the 1960s and 70s---all with so few words. With a few brush strokes. With moments.
Brown Girl Dreaming is classified as a book for children; it received a Newberry Honor and should be in every middle school library. And yet, I would place it beside Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
I’ve often lamented that there are so few bildungsroman from a female perspective. I had read To Kill a Mockingbird numerous times as a teen before it finally hit me that, even though Scott was the narrator, it was Jem’s story. Here, finally, is a portrait of the artist as a young brown girl.