Yes indeedy, folks, I have FINISHED this year’s Newberys! (Not that it’s been hard; remember, this was the year of two verse novels and a graphic novel. I think I’ve mentioned my ambivalence about that.) Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming took forever to come in at the library–it won more than one award this year–but come in it did, and I finished it on Sunday.
And what did you think?, you ask.
Woodson certainly writes beautifully enough to pull off this kind of a verse novel–make no mistake about that. She captures certain moments of her life in vivid perfection. The longing of a girl that left behind family in both Ohio and South Carolina to end up in Brooklyn was poignantly illustrated, even as those illustrations showed us the ultimate adaptability of childhood. I fully enjoyed the book, in fact; I do, however, wonder if it would be better termed an autobiography, rather than an autobiographical novel. Memoirs allow for a bit less cohesiveness, and while Brown Girl Dreaming did have a message, it also had a more meandering plot. (I possibly felt that the end was a bit more meandering than the rest of it, but that was an impression; I’m not sure I can back it up with specifics.)
Incidentally, I read an article that questioned the necessity of ‘Brown’ in the title; the author wondered if its presence would prevent it from reaching the full audience it deserves. I’m not sure I agree with that concern; I may not be a brown girl (meaning I’m awfully white for even a white girl–it goes with the hair), but the title didn’t particularly affect how I felt about it going in. I might agree, however, that ‘brown’ is unnecessary. I’m honestly not sure.
Ultimately, Brown Girl Dreaming is well-written, and there were things I really enjoyed about it; I’m certainly glad I read it. On the other hand, I wonder if it might not be too autobiography-ish for its intended audience. Her girlhood was heavily influenced by the politics of the time–will girls nowadays care enough? Time will tell, I suppose. I’m not sure I loved the complete package of the novel enough to tell the world they all have to read this book, but for those who enjoy memoirs, verse novels, or history, it’s well worth your time.