Friday, October 9, 2009

I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This - Jacqueline Woodson



How is it possible that a 115-page YA book can make such a huge impact on our psyche? How is it possible that it can reduce Amy to tears, or cause Natasha to wax lovingly about its virtues? Welcome to the world of books, where anything is possible.

Because of both Amy and Natasha's reviews of this book, I impulsively ordered it from the library. I had not read anything by this author before, but I just had this feeling I was missing out on something big. Woodson has written dozens of internationally acclaimed books for young adult, middle grade and picture books. Seriously, she has Caldecott medals, Coretta Scott King awards, Newberry Honor Medals, National Book Awards (just to name a few) on her resume.

Marie is a popular, well-to-do, 12-year-old black girl living in a prosperous black Ohio suburb. When Lena, a white girl, shows up at school, Marie's teacher asks her to show her the ropes. Where normally we see prejudices aimed at blacks, the tables are turned. Lena is considered "white trash" and is avoided like the plague.

But Marie finds a kindred spirit in Lena. Both are motherless. Marie's mother, stifled by her parental responsibilities, abandoned her and her father to discover the world. Lena's mother died of cancer, leaving her and her younger sister Dion in the care of their father. Despite the disapproval of Marie's friends and father, the two become inseparable.

There are other, bigger issues, though, that plague the two girls. Since Marie's mother left, her father is emotionally and physically distant:

I always thought that when you got to be a certain age - say, twelve - your father, because he was afraid, stopped touching you altogether, and that was just the way it was. Maybe your breasts were growing, or you'd grown quieter, or a couple of years before, your mother took off. Whatever the reason, your father decided no more hugs for you. Only, I used to think, what's wrong with hugging someone? Kissing your daughter's cheek? What's the danger of maybe, every once in awhile, patting her on the shoulder and telling her she's okay? Somebody tell me.

Lena's father, on the other hand, touches her too much. Soon, he begins to touch Lena's little sister too much as well, and in her mind, leaves her with few options for survival.

I found Woodson's writing beautiful in its simplicity. The voice of the 12-year-old narrator is very real, clear-headed and youthful. The book, in the short 115 pages, leaves you haunted, but with a ray of hope that the lives of Marie, Lena and Dion will improve. I was terribly excited to learn, when looking at Woodson's website, that because of the thousands of letters she received needing closure on this book, she has written a sequel called "Lena". Want to guess how many seconds it took me to order THAT one from the library?

I am yet undecided on whether I will let my 11 year old read this book, mainly because of the reference to the sexual abuse. While it is not graphic, it is disturbing, so we may need to wait a couple of years before she is ready for such a heavy topic. On the other hand, the friendship between Marie and Lena flourishing against all odds, is a refreshing plot, and to one every child should be exposed.

5 out of 5 stars

22 comments:

Melody said...

This sounds like a powerful read to me, Sandy! I'm glad you enjoyed it! I'll have to look out for this book.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Melody - I have "Lena" and "Feathers" both waiting for me after I finish my next book. Both are short also, which is nice now and again!

JoAnn said...

I've never heard of this author, and am off to check my library's website. This sounds like a very powerful book!

caite said...

hey look...my library has a copy....

Beth F said...

I've been hearing lots about Woodson lately. I too will have to give her a try one of these days.

Sounds like they might make good readathon books. Hummmmm.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Isn't Woodson the best? She is just amazing! And everyone has the same reaction - you read one of her books, and you HAVE to find the rest of the them!

Anna said...

Wow. I might have to check this one out myself. Thanks for the review!

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

April said...

Wow, Sandy! Great review! This sounds like a very engrossing and powerful story. I will have to keep my eyes out for it!

Natasha @ Maw Books said...

Oh Sandy I'm thrilled that you were introduced to Woodson!!!!! I'm a total fan girl. And why does my library not have Lena? Whaaaaa!!!!!

Alyce said...

It sounds good but upsetting. I tend to avoid books like this, but I know that it is an important topic to discuss.

Sheila (bookjourney) said...

This one is on my wish list. Another great review on this read... I am going to have to put this on my next order.

Melissa - Shhh I'm Reading said...

I had actually skimmed by the other reviews as the cover on this book didn't catch my eye. Luckily, your blog is one I always read. I'm have to return a book to the library today so I'll have to see if this one is available.

Literary Feline said...

This sounds like a very worthwhile book to read, Sandy, about a difficult and all too pervasive problem. Great and insightful review.

Dar said...

I've seen a few reviews of this one and it does sound like a book worth reading. I should check my library for a copy.

Carrie K. said...

What a wonderful review! I hadn't heard of this book before - I'm adding it to my TBR list. I wonder if the library has it on audio...

Nymeth said...

I've only read one book by Woodson so far (Miracle's Boys), but yes, she IS amazing!

Ti said...

This does sound very powerful. I would let her read it. It's important for children to know or at least be aware of the possibility of sexual abuse. I would have a discussion with her beforehand though and perhaps even after to hear her thoughts on the matter.

Michele at Reader's Respite said...

Well if you felt so strongly about this book, I know I would, too. So on the list it goes!

Amy said...

I'm so so glad you read this and liked it! (whew!) I have Lena, but haven't started it yet. :)

evelyn.n.alfred said...

She is an amazing author. I have this book, but I'm going to have to read it after Peace, Locomotion and Dear One.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

I missed these reviews at My Friend Amy and Maw Books, glad I caught it here!

That excerpt you posted broke my heart for Marie, then I read further and saw what Lena was dealing with ... yes, intense.

Is the character in the book "Lena" the same girl?

Alice Teh said...

I've not heard of this author but from your review and rating, it sounds like a powerful book. :)