Book Reviews, Young Adult

Review: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson is a poetry memoir geared towards an adolescent audience that focuses on the author’s childhood. Brown Girl Dreaming has a long list of accolades including winning a National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, a John Newberry Medal, and the Coretta Scott King Award

I was recommended Brown Girl Dreaming through one of my college courses this semester that focuses on storytelling. It is an atypical read for me because the text is written entirely in verse. I think analyzing so much old English poetry on standardized tests scarred me from ever thinking I could enjoy poetry. Needless to say, I picked up Brown Girl Dreaming unsure of what to expect. A few pages in it became clear that the verse was both beautiful and accessible for readers to understand. 

Born in Ohio and raised in both South Carolina and New York City in the 1960s, Jacqueline Woodson describes growing up with conflicting and changing definitions of home. The story picks up right at the beginning of her life, starting with the day she was born. Woodson’s poems capture the memories and sensory details of childhood so vividly. She digs deeply into the contrast between her environments, showing how summers with her grandmother in South Carolina differ from school years in New York City. 

Brown Girl Dreaming really shines in accessing youthful observance. Jacqueline’s life is surrounded by the Civil Rights Movement and she slowly introduces this as she became aware of its presence in her own life.

Woodson does a great deal of characterizations through the actions of her family members. Her grandmother is so strict and caring, her mother so hardworking, her sister Odella so intelligent, and Jacqueline herself so wondering and imaginative as she grows. 

Her journey to becoming a writer grows slowly and incrementally throughout the text. There are small moments where Jacqueline discovers stories and eventually begins to tell some of her own. This book is great for young writers who are discovering their own storytelling and creative passions. 

A big theme in Brown Girl Dreaming is home. Jacqueline finds herself feeling such a deep rooted connection to the place she lives in South Carolina. This makes moving to New York City a strange transition. There is sort of a halfway identity that she comes upon. Is home where she remembers being, or where she is now? How can somebody find home when their heart and family is spread to many places? 

I think that Brown Girl Dreaming is a good book to read for adolescents. The book is definitely young adult literature and the story is accessible to younger audiences in language and perspective. Woodson builds a vivid description of her childhood in multiple places and the experiences of being Black in the United States.  Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by Brown Girl Dreaming. It is definitely worth the read!

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