Hush by Jacqueline Woodson
Woodson, Jacqueline. 2002. Hush.
New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons. ISBN: 0-399-23114-5.
Hush is the dramatic story of young Toswiah, whose family is being protected by the government in the witness protection
program. Toswiah has to change her name and leave everything and everyone she
has ever known behind because of her father’s involvement in a case against two fellow police officers. The struggle of each of the family members to find meaning in their new lives is a focal point of the book
and in the end each one comes to peace with their new selves in a very individual way.
Woodson does an amazing job of
characterization. While I hope I never know first hand what being in this situation
feels like, through the characters in this book I feel like I have experienced each of their struggles vicariously. Each member of the family is so fully developed that the reader is able to identify with all of them and
not only Evie (Toswiah) the main character.
One thing that was done extremely
well in this book is the avoidance of stereotyping. Toswiah and her family are
African Americans; however they do not fit the typical stereotypes. The father
is a well respected police officer, and the mother is a dearly loved teacher. They
live (originally) in a good neighborhood in prominently Caucasian Colorado. Both
girls are popular and interracial dating is mentioned so casually as to assume that, the thought that anyone may have a problem
with it is so absurd that it is hardly worth mentioning. The characters in this
book are “people” plain and simple, the fact that they are black is incidental and while it plays a role in the
reason they are placed in the witness protection program, beyond that it is not terribly important to characterization.
The plot of this
book did deliver what I felt like would be a realistic slice of life for a family in this particular situation. The different coping strategies that each member of the family employs are appropriate and realistic given
their situation. While depression and hopelessness plague the entire family,
each find comfort eventually in either religion, education (escape), sports, or in peace with themselves. Even though, in the end everyone realizes that they can never go back to the way things were before and
that their lives are forever changed, there is a definite hopeful tone that things can get better and that the outcome of
their lives depends in great part to their outlook.
Overall, I really
enjoyed this book and felt it was realistic fiction as it was truly intended. Not
to promote one agenda or another, but to truly offer a glimpse into what life might be like for someone else. Anyone who ever wondered what it would be like to leave their life behind and start over new somewhere
else would appreciate the stark reality of what such a change would actually be like.
Not only does this book let readers have a glimpse of what being in the witness protection program might be like, but
it offers a new appreciation for the people and places that we all too often take for granted.
Journey by Deborah Ellis
Ellis, Deborah. 2002. Parvana’s
Journey. Berkeley, CA:
Groundwood Books. ISBN: 0-88899-514-8.
Parvana’s Journey is the story of a young girl in Afghanistn who is on a journey to find her mother and her siblings
following the death of her father. Parvana is masquerading as a boy to travel
more easily through country controlled by the Taliban. Throughout her journey,
Parvana meets other children who are also attempting to survive on their own in this hostile environment. The four children band together and form a family of sorts who are all trying to survive and find a place
The setting in Parvana’s
Journey provides the backdrop to the story and in many ways makes the story authentic.
The war-torn mental image of Afghanistan is brought to life through the amazing descriptions of not only the landscape but of the culture
and survival mentality of the main characters and peripheral characters as well. While
the current situation in Afghanistan has changed in the way of leadership, the Taliban rule and general living conditions are still
close enough to the present to evoke a better understanding for children outside of the culture of what life could be like
in this foreign land.
The characterization is beautifully
done throughout this book. The age and gender related expectations within this
culture are thoroughly integrated even though an integral portion of the plot requires Parvana to ignore these roles for a
time as a means of survival. The children in the book have enough universally
childlike thoughts to allow children not familiar with this culture to relate to them.
This aspect of characterization is especially important with multicultural literature.
It allows the reader to better understand what the world is like, and permits them to empathize with the struggles
of children around the world. Parvana, Asif and Leila are all such likable characters,
however they all have flaws. It is the presence of these flaws that make them
real to readers. These characters could be real children and it is that sense
of realism that makes this book so poignant.
I found this to be an excellent
book and it helps to fill a large void in children’s literature for materials related to the Middle East.
Multicultural literature is such an important part of educating young people about the world and the people in it. With so much of the adult world’s focus on the Middle East it is important to provide young people with a way
of understanding that culture as well. Parvana’s Journey does just
this, it offers a glimpse of life in war-torn Afghanistan, and a frame of reference for children to better identify with a culture that is foreign to them.
Chaos by Sharon Creech
Creech, Sharon. 1990. Absolutely Normal Chaos. New York: Harper Collins. ISBN: 0-06-026992-8.
Absolutely Normal Chaos is the story of Mary Lou, a young girl who has been given the assignment to keep a journal over
the summer for her new English teacher. The summer proves to be eventful, with
the coming and going of best friends, a new boyfriend, and an unexpectedly mysterious cousin who ends up spending the summer
with the Finneys.
This book is written as a first person account
in a diary form, the voice of Mary Lou is extremely authentic. Having been a
thirteen year old girl myself, I was able to recognize Mary Lou and other character’s behavior as being very fitting
to that time in adolescence. This brings us to characterization, I felt that
the major characters were very well developed, which is especially impressive considering that the book is presented entirely
through the view of one character. While all characters do not receive the same
amount of attention, there are two or three others besides Mary Lou who the reader gets a pretty thorough understanding of.
There are several co current plots in this
story. The first and probably most important is the story line of cousin Carl
Ray. Through this plot line, readers are able to appreciate that people have
layers and not everything or everyone is how they may seem at first. The other
major aspect regarding plot is the relationships between Mary Lou and her best friend Beth Ann, as well as between Mary Lou
and her boyfriend Alex. These two story lines capture some of the common peer
relationship issues that early adolescents often face. Mary Lou’s distain
for Beth Ann’s “mushy” behavior when she describes (or doesn’t describe) her boyfriend becomes comical
when Mary Lou herself exhibits this same mannerism when she and Alex become an item.
However the realism of the feelings that she expresses rings true for peer relationships at that age.
I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed this
book. The variety in action was refreshing and never dull. Readers will not only enjoy the lively story, but gain an authentic understanding of what living in a family
of five siblings might be like. For children who are only children or only have
one or two siblings, this book may be a real eye opener in this respect. I do
have to admit that I would not think that boys would enjoy this particular book, mostly due to all of the “mushy”
descriptions about the young girls’ boyfriends, however the Carl Ray plot line does balance the scales on that nicely.
The Dream Bearer by Walter Dean Myers
Myers, Walter Dean. 2003. The Dream Bearer.
New York: Harper Collins. ISBN: 0-06-029521-X.
The Dream Bearer is the story of young David, an African American boy who lives in the city with his mother, father and brother. David’s family life is far from perfect, with his older brother showing signs
of drug use and involvement with the wrong sorts of people, and his father who is suffering from mental illness which often
causes him to be violent. David is intrigued one day when he and his friend Loren
meet an old man in the park who claims to be over 300 years old, and a dream carrier.
When the man, Mr. Moses, begins telling some of his dreams to David, they form a bond and David begins to develop his
own dreams, some good, some painful.
The characters really make this book what
it is. Each is very distinct and provides readers with a completely different
experience. The characters are all very believable with the exception of Mr.
Moses who seems very mysterious and is not presented as a three dimensional character, however, that may have been intentional
since he is a catalyst for David’s maturation. Besides Mr. Moses and Sessi,
a peripheral character, David’s mother is the positive force in the book for David.
While he struggles with his realization about the destructive path his brother’s life has turned to, and as he
comes to terms with his father’s condition, it is his mother who is the glue that hold the family together.
The overarching theme of this book is probably
that sometimes life is hard, but you can get through it. The dreams that you
carry, are a part of you and your past, so you should learn what you can from our experiences both positive and negative. The dreams are there to remind you of those lessons in the future.
I enjoyed this book even though I did not
expect to. I found the relationship between David and his father and the way
it evolved to be especially interesting. I think that this book would be very
helpful to children who have a family member with mental illness or for children to better appreciate and understand what
that type of disease does to people and those around them. This book was extremely
well written and will captivate readers through its various plots and characters.