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Review: Brown Girl Dreaming

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

4/5 stars

Earlier this year I read Woodson's 2020 novel Red at the Bone (click to read my review), and really loved her writing style, so I was excited to read this memoir written in verse.

Born in Ohio, raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson grew up with no fixed idea of "home." In eloquent and emotional poetry, she writes about her childhood in the 1960's & 70's, growing up Black in a time brimming with Civil Rights activism and racial tensions, including vestiges of the Jim Crow era mentality.

As a young girl traveling between the south and NY, Woodson gained a unique perspective on the differences and similarities between the way Black people are treated (and how they view themselves) in each. She struggles with her own identity and where she fits in the world.

With her beloved grandparents in South Carolina - Is home where her grandfather teaches her how to grow collard greens and corn in the rich red soil, but where "they painted over the WHITE ONLY signs, except on the bathroom doors they didn't use a lot of paint so you can still see the words, right there, like a ghost standing in front, still keeping you out"?

Or with her mother and siblings in New York City - Is home where her best friend Maria lives, whose mother makes the best arroz con pollo, but where her little brother eats paint chips off the wall, and her Uncle Robert lands himself in jail?

"Our feet are beginning to belong in two different worlds - Greenville and New York. We don't know how to come home, and leave home behind us."

Her search for the meaning of "home" begins to take shape when she comes to understand her gift - writing stories. We watch as she finds her voice, learns how to articulate her thoughts and feelings, and reckons with the realities of loving, and sometimes losing, the places and people tangled up in our own identities.

I don't know if I've ever read such a cohesive story written in verse. I was worried that it wouldn't land with me, since I'm not a big reader of poetry, but Woodson expertly crafts what feels like an entire autobiography out of the individual pieces of each poem.


UP NEXT: Nights When Nothing Happened, by Simon Han

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