Brown Girl Dreaming: #ReblogBookClub Week 1
A few thoughts on Parts I & II of Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming:
- The format of the book feels informal, as if Woodson has been jotting down these observations since she was a child. In other words, it feels very present. As a reader, I am right there with the author, eavesdropping on conversations and witnessing moments that happened years before I was born. It makes for an intimate experience.
- Several themes stuck with me in Part I: heritage and, separately, the things that our parents give us as children.
- Heritage can be both a burden and a source of pride. Jacqueline juxtaposes her family’s roots in slavery and the South with the illustrious Woodson line, peppered with doctors, lawyers, athletes, and more. Her mother is irrevocably tied to her home in South Carolina; almost in equal measure, her father cannot bear the idea of living outside of Ohio. Both are deeply rooted to a sense of place and belonging, and this creates a wedge that ultimately drives them apart. Heritage is inescapable – it can give us something to atone for and something to take solace in.
- Although parents pass along their heritage, both culturally and genetically, they also choose what things they give to their children, things to shape character and identity. Jacqueline’s father bequeaths her his name, or tries to, because he believes it will set her apart and make her strong. Jacqueline’s mother equips her with the strength to survive, the strength to know who she is in the face of incomprehensible injustice.
- In Part II, I was struck by the fluid concept of home. Is home a place, a person, a feeling? Jacqueline’s mother returns home and finds her family scattered, broken, and gone. She no longer has that sense of security and identity in her childhood town, nor can she content herself with her children alone. She flees to New York to try and find a place that feels like home.
- Meanwhile, her children make their home with their grandparents in Greenville, where “Grandfather” becomes “Daddy,” where their grandmother forces them to assume a strict spiritual identity, and where they start to glimpse, in bits and pieces, the battle against racism. For them, home is not something they are allowed to choose for themselves, but something they adapt to out of necessity – a grandparent’s love, a warm stove and biscuits in the winter, a front porch where they are taught whom to associate with and whom to avoid.
- After reading Part II, I thought a lot about what home means to me. For the first 22 years of my life, I had little say over my home. My parents left their respective childhood homes in Mexico and Southern California and settled in Washington, where they raised my younger sister and me. Last summer, I moved to the Bay Area to make a new home for myself. Like Jacqueline’s mother, I found something especially enticing about a big city. Here, I rent a spare bedroom in a large, beautiful house that neither feels comfortable nor mine. While I am in this fluctuating state, however, I have found a sense of home in the relationship I have with my boyfriend, and am content knowing that we share a city and a space that belongs to us.
- A final thought for now: In many books and films I’ve watched about the oppression of the 1950s and 60s, stories seem to revolve around one activist or event, from Rosa Parks to Martin Luther King, Jr. What happens with those stories, as powerful as they are, is that they are quickly explained and quickly resolved. By contrast, Brown Girl Dreaming not only spans the spectrum of racist attitudes and behavior, but helps the reader understand how long of a process this was (is), and how difficult it was just to discuss solutions to these problems in safety, let alone carry them out.