Top critical review
A feel-good childhood memoir
Reviewed in Canada on September 20, 2016
I was inspired to read this book after hearing a wonderful interview with the author on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terri Gross. The idea of a memoir for young adults written in poetry really intrigued me. I immediately ordered it, along with the author’s next book, Another Brooklyn, on Amazon. The books arrived, and this one is particularly beautiful-looking: a silhouette of a young black girl holding a book, awash in a blue-green-yellow swirl of butterflies, and festooned with prestigious literary awards. Needless to say, my expectations for this book were very high.
Perhaps if my expectations had not been so high I would be giving this book a higher rating right now. As it is, I have positive and negative things to say about it. On the positive side, it is a lovely feel-good childhood memoir. It provided me when many, many, warm-and-fuzzy feelings throughout. You really feel that the author felt deeply loved as a child, although, if you read between the lines, it is pretty obvious that she was probably quite poor growing up, her father seems to have abandoned the family, and then her mother suddenly gets pregnant by an unidentified man, and the father of that boy (Roman) seems to be absent as well. Plus, the mother’s sister dies in a terrible accident and her brother spends time in jail. So, from an adult perspective, although tragedies befall this family (it certainly isn’t a bed of roses), the grandparents’ and mother’s love for the children is absolutely palpable and a delight to behold. The children clearly love and support one another as well, which personally I think is a rare gift. The character I loved the most was “Daddy”, the children’s grandfather; I could practically hear his voice, see his lean, work-worn body, and feel the love that emanated from him. It was sad when he passed away, but Woodson really showed the reader what a blessing he was in their lives.
On the negative side, as I said earlier, I was not too impressed with Woodson’s “poetry”. Perhaps if it had been marketed as “prose-poetry” it would have been more accurate. After a while, the fact that it was just prose with judiciously-placed line breaks got on my nerves. Writing good poetry is a different art form from writing good prose. Personally, I found her style too predictable to be called poetry. I feel that good poetry should, through veiling and unveiling, hint at nuanced meanings that can be interpreted in multiple ways, and this book didn’t provide that.