The House You Pass on the Way by Jacqueline Woodson
Penguin Books (SPEAK imprint)
Finished Reading February 11, 2010
I first heard of Jacqueline Woodson when I read her short story in How Beautiful the Ordinary, and while her addition was not my favorite, I was intrigued to read more of her work. It seemed obvious to start with The House You Pass On the Way, the winner of the Coretta Scott King award and perhaps her best known work.
Woodson manages to explore several Big Topics here: coming of age, the importance of family, and the search for identity. It’s a quietly complex, beautiful little story, without being over-dramatic, preachy, or heavy handed–no small feat when you consider all of the questions/topics raised. She manages to prompt critical thinking and disucssion in only 128 pages, in a way that many authors aren’t able to do with much longer stories.
I’ve been stuck on this review for a couple weeks now, because all I really want to write about is this quote:
“Nobody ever told me I had to hide it,” Staggerlee said. “I think I just told myself. I read this book once where this woman fell in love with another woman and she couldn’t deal with it, so she jumped off this cliff. It scared me[...]” — p. 88
Throughout the novel, Staggerlee is grappling with the feelings she has for girls. She’s nervous and unsure, and despite having a loving, close family, doesn’t discuss any of her fears with them. Kids and teens like Staggerlee are the reason we need more positive representations of GLBT people in novels. While a novel can be good literature and have, for instance, a lesbian character who commits suicide, there also needs to be books with POSITIVE endings, where identities are reaffirmed, where gay and lesbian relationships work out in the end, where characters find a queer community, where families love and accept their GLBT children. Thankfully, there are books like this, but we need to emphasize the importance of reading positively. Many kids don’t know anyone who is gay or lesbian or bisexual and/or trans, and it’s important that their are POSITIVE representations of these people. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be sad endings or heartbreaking stories; I’m saying we need to place value on affirmation.
In summary… Read this book. It will not take you very long and it will make you (and me!) very happy.
For GLBT mini-challenge