Sunday, October 18, 2009

Woodson's Hush Looks at Black, White and Blue

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

No one does prejudice quite like Jacqueline Woodson. Through her novels, she has probed issues like racism, police brutality, homophobia, and discrimination against people with disabilities. Her victims run the gamut: they are rich, poor, black, white, deaf, gay, educated and mentally retarded. The characters, in their infinite variety, serve to underscore Woodson's constant theme - People are just people, despite differences in gender, race, background and creed.

Woodson devotees adore her for her fearless honesty, especially when discussing issues between the black and white communities. Hush, her 2002 novel, is a perfect example, although it adds a new group to the mix - the blue community. Blue, as in cops. The Denver Police Department, to be exact. To 12-year-old Toswiah Jackson, her father's co-workers on the force have always been like kindly aunts and uncles. They've attended her birthday parties, given her rides home in their squad cars, told her silly jokes and patted her head. It didn't matter that her father was the only black officer in the precinct because "it was different there ... Cops were cops. We were all one big family. All on the same side of the law. We were the good guys" (28).

That was then. Before Toswiah's father sees two white cops shoot a black teenager. Before he decides to testify against them. Now, the Jacksons are no more. The Witness Protection Program has re-invented them. Toswiah Jackson of Denver, Colorado becomes Evie Thomas of Someplace Else, USA. Although she and her family look unchanged, Toswiah knows things will never be the same. Her father's a brooding, broken man; her mother's found religion, one that has her praising Jehovah and cancelling holidays; and her sister's itching to leave home ASAP. As for Toswiah - once she knew who she was, knew she was someone special; now, she's not so sure. All she wants is to go back to the life she knew and loved. But she can't. Not now, not ever. How will she make her way in this topsy-turvy new world where everything, including herself, is so very different?

While Hush isn't my favorite Woodson book, I still found it a compelling read. It's quick, but deceptively so. Although I finished it in a couple of hours, the story lingered in my head. I felt keenly for Toswiah, whose life changed irrevocably because of her father's insistence on telling the truth. It made me think about justice, right, morals and obligations. Hush is not the cheeriest of stories, or the most exciting, but it's undeniably affecting. It didn't make me swoon - it did make me think. And think. A great story always does ...

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for mature themes

To the FTC, with love: Got this one for free - from the library

5 comments:

  1. this writer sounds like she is interested in stirring up debate. Thanks for the review

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  2. Hush was my first foray into Jacqueline Woodson and I really enjoyed it. I'd like to read some more of her books.

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  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  4. I'm definately going to check out some of her books. I just finished reading The Shack by William Young. VERY interesting... our book club is discussing it tonight and I expect a very lively discussion about it. I really liked it!

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  5. I loved Hush. It was my first Woodson novel.

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