When I realized Brown Girl Dreaming was written in free verse, I was immediately intrigued and knew I would either love it or hate it because of the style. Fortunately, the structure worked really well and I completely loved this book.
This review has no spoilers.
Author Jacqueline Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming tells the story of her childhood. Written entirely in free verse poetry, Woodson explores the events that shaped her life, such as splitting time between New York and South Carolina, growing up during the Civil Rights movement, and learning to love writing.
Despite my initial reservations over the style of the book, I realized that free verse is the perfect way to express childhood memories. I mean, how much of our own childhoods do we really remember? It's not a narrative style. It’s just memories and feelings here and there; flowing, charming poetry is ideal for capturing them. As I read, I kept remembering events from my own childhood. Her descriptions of sounds and smells especially brought little moments back to me.
Free verse made this book fly by. Additionally, it made the author’s point of view as a child so much more impactful as it emphasized the important, defining moments in her life. The most sobering parts were when you see her grow up and begin to understand the Civil Rights movement while still wanting to maintain childlike innocence and play. The author clearly had pride in who she was and had a beautiful inner strength that developed over time.
I also appreciated the author’s note at the end. She talked about reconciling with her dad and how she’s still best friends with Maria, which I thought was the cutest thing ever.
I don’t really have a complaint. For anyone interested in reading it, though, I will say there wasn’t necessarily a “point” to the story. It was just Woodson recounting her early life. This certainly isn’t a bad thing, and it didn’t keep me from thoroughly enjoying the book. However, if you like plot and action this might not be your thing. I’d still recommend it anyway because of the experience of reading all free verse.
Below are lines from a few of the poems that stood out to me, two of them being her “how to listen” poems in full.
The ending of the reader (I think this was my favorite poem, what with the author’s bookworm sister and the rest of the siblings trying to get the reader’s attention. I could picture the event perfectly.)
and the circling makes us dizzy
my sister will do nothing more
than slowly turn the page.
how to listen #2
In the stores downtown
we’re always followed around
just because we’re brown.
how to listen #6
When I sit beneath
the shade of my block’s oak tree
the world disappears.
This was an easy 4.5/5 rating - Woodson is an author who I would happily read from again.