Publication Date: January 1, 2014
Raised in both New York and South Carolina, both are home, but not quite, for Jacqueline Woodson.
Told through verse, Woodson tells the story of growing up with pieces of Jim Crow and learning about the Civil Rights movement. Her poetry also reveals her journey toward becoming a writer and storyteller.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Date Read: October 4, 2018
I had heard of this book around BookTube before but never picked it up until I had to read it for class this semester. Of all the books we read, I think I flew through this the fastest.
Firstly, I had no idea this was in verse until I started it. I keep mixing this up with another book (whose title I don’t remember), and for some reason, the fact that this was in verse really surprised me. Now, as someone who doesn’t like poetry, I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would. If you go back and look at my reviews of Stateside and Olives from earlier in the year, you’ll know that really established my dislike of poetry back in the spring. But perhaps because this was mostly free-verse, I found it a lot more enjoyable to read.
I thought that it was really interesting how Woodson included elements that could have passed for magical realism in this collection of poems. She chronicles her life from when she was born until about the age of 10 or 11, and gives us the beginnings of her journey as a writer. Part of what my class discussed to be similar to magical realism were her accounts of her early life, like the opening poem of when she was born and the early years before she’s realistically able to remember things (psych studies show that we can’t really remember anything, if much at all, from before we’re 3). But she brings us through this early part of her life as if she was there, and the creative liberty she took with that made the poems more interesting to read.
Now, I can tell you right here and now that analyzing poetry is not something I’m good at, have ever been good at, or will ever be good at. I suck at trying to understand the deeper meaning of things and I hate how much it feels like poets beat around the bush instead of being straightforward. I’ve taken a course on poetry and had to write my own, which really only proved to me even more that prose is where my strengths lie, both in writing and understanding.
What I appreciated about this was how simple the poetry was. This is clearly geared a little more toward the younger side of YA, and I liked that Woodson wasn’t trying to make a grand deal of her life and what she was trying to tell us about her experiences. Instead, she was simply telling her story through poetry because she knew it was the best format for what she wanted to do.
One of the things we discussed a lot in class was way this was structured in terms of plot. Many people brought up that they struggled with reading this because the plot wasn’t as structured as a normal novel and it made it hard for them to figure out what exactly Woodson was trying to say at times. Personally, I didn’t have a problem with that because I thought of this as a collection of poems around a single person’s life, rather than a novel made from poems. But, it led us to talk a lot about whether lives have a perfectly coherent narrative structure (I may also have caused a few of my classmates to have an existential crisis with that question). It didn’t leave me with any kind of grand revelation, but I did enjoy the conversation that came out of it.
I thought that the ending was fitting and that Woodson had a great sense of when she should mark the end of this part of her life. If she were to write another book about her childhood years, I’d be interested in seeing where she chooses to pick back up.
I liked the way Woodson reflected on her younger self and talked about her family members and best friend. It was really interesting to see how she told her story with a younger voice, as it’s not always easy to do that after growing up.
4 stars. Ultimately, what knocked a star off was the fact that this was poetry. As good as it is, poetry is just not something I would ever willingly pick up. It’s unfair, but that’s just the reality of it. I do think it’s a good book to give to readers on the young YA spectrum though.