Maybe, I am thinking, there is something hidden like this, in all of us. A small gift from the universe waiting to be discovered.
This book is a gift. For the young, the old, and the in between—as every children's book should be. C.S. Lewis of course put it best: "No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally—and often more—worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond." I don't understand people who refuse to read children's literature. Good children's literature, that is. No one should read bad children's literature, least of all children. But the good ones? Read them. And read them often. To quote another author with initials for a first name, J.K. Rowling: "The true dilemmas of childhood are the dilemmas of the whole of life…belonging and betrayal, the power of the group, and the courage it takes to be an individual."
Brown Girl Dreaming is one of the good ones. It is a memoir of childhood; a portrait of a writer as a young girl, and the stories, people, and places that shaped her. In a voice so pure and lyrical and unaffected that not once does Jacqueline Woodson betray herself as an adult—savvy young readers would never stand for that—we see her world as she did then, as a young African American growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. How different this novel would have been were it told from an adult's point of view, looking back. How infinitely better for us all that it's not.
Raised in South Carolina and later Brooklyn, New York, Woodson was torn between two completely different worlds, and never felt entirely at home in either place. In the South, kids teased her and her siblings for their northern way of talking, and its prejudices made it harder to remember that she was "as good as anybody." In the North, being a Jehovah's Witness meant following rules her friends didn't understand. But home was her family, as was her forever friend, Maria.
And words. Words become her home too. Beginning with her insatiable love of stories as a young child, to her initial struggle to read on her own, to the thrill of her first blank composition book, and finally, to her ultimate discovery that "words are [her] brilliance."
Here's an example of that brilliance:
I am not my sister.
Words from the books curl around each other
make little sense
I read them again
and again, the story
settling into memory. Too slow my teacher says.
Too babyish, the teacher says.
But I don't want to read faster or older or
any way else that might
make the story disappear too quickly from where
inside my brain,
slowly becoming a part of me.
A story I will remember
long after I've read it for the second, third,
tenth, hundredth time.
I know will remember this story long after I've read it for the second, third, tenth, hundredth time.