Friday, September 01, 2006

The House You Pass On the Way, reviewed by Theodora Ranelli

The House You Pass on the Way by Jacqueline Woodson
Please read this book. Do not read the review, do not pass go, just read the book.

The House You Pass on the Way is an incredible book, rich with language and layers. This book is only 99 pages long, but manages to fill many different voids. Staggerlee is fourteen and re-names herself after the character in the song when she realizes that the words were more about someone trying to shake off their chains than about a murder. She decides that she is going to shake off her chains. Living in the South, she is ostracized because her mother is White (her extended family shun them for this reason as well) and her grandparents are famous (deceased, but famous). She kissed a girl once and people made fun of her, since then she thought loving a woman was a bad thing. A cousin she never knew comes to stay with her for the summer and the two form an intense connection. This girl named herself ‘Trout’ because she wanted to be a fighter. They discus racism, family, identity, and sexuality as they wonder who they are. After Trout’s gone and seems to be headed in an opposite direction, Staggerlee wonders about herself, who she will become, and understands that she’ll have to go alone.

A wonderful depiction of how sometimes there are no easy answers, of the importance to keep moving even if you do not understand, of giving yourself over to the ride. The music adds to the book's texture. I saw Staggerlee's harmonica as something that she will always have, even if life erupts in chaos.

This review really does not do the book justice. Woodson packs quite a punch. Haunting, rare, and needed.

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