brown girl dreaming

#blacklivesmatter is everywhere these days, and seemingly everyone has an opinion about it. And the fight is ugly. If you had asked me even 2 years ago if I thought we would be living in the 60s again, I would have laughed and thought you meant fashion or the MidCentury Mod furniture design craze.

But nothing about this is funny. People aren’t just getting emotionally wounded, people are dying. And they aren’t just being killed by Joe Blow off the street, but by those sworn to protect us. No matter what side of the fence you’re on…that’s a very scary thing to think about.

As a white woman in America, I mostly keep my mouth shut. While I support #blacklivesmatter, this isn’t my time to speak. My voice is not the one that needs to be heard.

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Adult Booklr chose Jacqueline Woodson’s brown girl dreaming for our August Book Club and it could not be more poignant. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about it, since it is a story written in poems instead of prose, but it ended up being incredibly beautiful. It is also a perfect book to release right now. It not only speaks to Black Culture, but it did a lot of good to me as well.

The rest of my review is written, obviously, from a white woman’s perspective. I have not been in the fight. I cannot understand what you are going through. I would love to hear your feelings on this beautiful book, and I hope you will share them with me.

brown girl dreaming is essentially Woodson’s memoir, written from the viewpoint of her as a child in the 1960s. Through her vivid poetry, she talks about growing up in Ohio, South Carolina, and New York, and the differences between prejudices and struggles in each location. She also lays out the foundation of learning to write, her family life, and just growing up as a whole.

Even though the words were spoken with a child’s voice, the wisdom in them was so pronounced. This was a child who saw the world through her pencil–every moment was a word waiting to be written. Her composition notebook was her tool to sort, file, organize the world around her and try to make sense of everything that was happening. For the reader, that notebook, in turn, helps us understand what is happening in our similar world today.

I couldn’t relate to everything she wrote. I grew up in a privileged home, with both parents, in the same house until the end of high school. I very much understand what people mean when they talk about White Privilege now. I can’t say I have never struggled…they are just different struggles.

There were, however, some poems that made my heart expand until I thought it was going to explode. Some made me want to weep. The ones about reading and writing, especially–not knowing how to use those gifts as a kid but just knowing they were there and she had to use them somehow.

Then there were the poems that really spoke to me on a human level. Those shook me. They are the reason I’m writing the review this way–because I really wasn’t sure how I was going to approach it. One of the last poems in the book was this one, called “how to listen #10”:

 

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I think that is the most important thing as a white person in America right now, because we are privileged, whether we can see it or not. It’s a hard thing to admit sometimes–pride is a hard thing to let go of. But we just have to shut up and listen.

 

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The Deerslayer

Did you know that The Last of the Mohicans is actually a series? We see series all the time now, but we don’t think about them much back in the 1800s. Maybe they happened more than I realize. I’ve seen books with multiple volumes and one title, but this is the first I’ve seen in an actual series like this.

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James Fenimore Cooper wrote The Leatherstocking Tales about an adventurer called Natty Bumppo–a white man who was raised among the Delaware Indians in the what is now New York. Even though he was raised among the Native Americans, he loathes the idea of harming his own kind. He hunts (giving him the nickname of Deerslayer), but he does not like the idea of war. He crosses paths with two white men, Hurry Harry and Floating Tom who have taken up scalping for trade, and try to convince him to do it with them. He tries to convince them to stop, but they don’t listen and are trapped by the dangerous Huron tribe.

This book…I just…have really mixed feelings.

I liked Bumppo’s character. He’s a good man, and he just wants to be left alone in the woods. Also, he’s asexual. He has a chance to marry the beautiful girl, and he says, “Meh…no thanks, I think I’ll go back and head off back in the trees, but thanks. Let’s just be friends, k?” He joins the fight because he has to get the idiots out of danger, but I got the idea that it was really really complicated and was just messing things up for him. Towards the end, Judith asks him if he wanted to fight and he tells her that while he can now claim the title of Warrior, he hates it and fights only out of necessity.

Also, the descriptions of the land are beautiful. This is written by someone who has spent a great deal of time in upstate New York. My Coursera professor added this to our historical fiction syllabus–which is why I am reading it now–and he showed us a picture of the lake Cooper references. The details are perfect, down to the exact spherical boulder on the shoreline.

However, I struggled a great deal with the racial context. I think sometimes it is hard for me to remove myself culturally from what I know now about the struggles/pain white men have caused in this country. I’m not even sure if that sentence made any sense. But even though I know in my head that Cooper was using the terminology that his characters would have called “injins” and “red men,” it still just makes me cringe. Bumppo and Hurry Harry have a pretty heated debate about the differences between white men and red men–Bumppo is trying to convince Harry that all men are equal, even if culture and tradition is different–and it just gets really ugly. It hurts my heart to know that I could pick that conversation up, take out “red” put in “black” and drop that conversation pretty much anywhere in the US right now, and it would still fit exactly.

I don’t talk about that subject much, mostly because I don’t know what to say, and what I mean will never come out right. But that part of the book really got to me, and I couldn’t leave it out.

There isn’t much else–the book is a little hard to follow at times. It is pretty chaotic. People have multiple names and there isn’t a whole lot of setting buildup. This is one that I read Wiki before I reviewed to make sure I understood what I read. I’m not ashamed to admit it, people!

This isn’t really a book I’d recommend, unless you really like old adventure stories. But, I know I’m going to have to read The Last of the Mohicans at some point for the Boxall 1001, so I stuck it out.

Seriously though, I am going to make someone else write my TBR for September. Why did I do this to myself? WAR WAR WAR DEPRESSED WARWARWAR DARK WAR

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