Sunday, June 20, 2010

Review: Hush by Jacqueline Woodson

Jacqueline Woodson
Title: Hush
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Publication Date: 2002
ISBN: 0-399-23114-5

Toswiah had everything: a best friend, a grandmother living nearby, a happy home with a father who was a police officer and a sister who was a cheerleader. Then her world came crashing down. Her father, the only Black officer in his precinct, witnessed two fellow officers, friends of the family, gun down an unarmed boy. Why? Although the boy was a good student from a respected family, he was Black. When her father chose to testify, Toswiah’s family became the victims of death threats. One night, some men came and put the whole family into protective custody. They left everything behind except what they could carry in plastic bags. Even their names were changed. Toswiah Green from Colorado was no more. Evie Thomas from California was born. How would you cope? Her mother finds a new religion. Her sister finds refuge in studying. Evie discovers the joy in running, but her father loses himself, staring out the window. Who is Evie now, and will her new world survive? (Woodson, Jacqueline. 2002. Hush. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. ISBN: 0399231145)

Many have heard of the Brotherhood, the bond between police officers, where the color of a person’s skin is not important. It’s the trust between the officers that allow them to survive the harsh realities on the streets. Sometimes, though, bad things happen, and an officer must choose between the Brotherhood and the truth. Hush by Jacqueline Woodson places a Black family in a middle class neighborhood in Colorado into this situation. The Green family is uprooted from everything they know and has to rediscover who they are in a new neighborhood, with new names.

The characters in Hush reflect their culture, but they are not stereotyped. Details of each are brought out in beautifully written text. “The mother’s dark brown fingers move quickly through a rise of white dough. On the stove, chicken pieces, seasoned and dipped in flour, sizzle.” Toswiah loves the beauty of her mother. “Her mother’s brown reminds her of everything she loves: Chocolate. Dark wool. The smell of earth. Trees.” The girls’ skin is “somewhere between their mother’s deep brown and their father’s lighter skin.” Their father calls them his “copper pennies.”

The universal theme of finding oneself is magnified given the intense situation this family finds itself in. Each character evolves in his/her own direction as they face the challenges of a new life. Cameron/Anna who was the popular one, finds a goal in education, a way to escape their depressing home. The mother finds religion. Maybe, if she believes hard enough, her world will turn around. Toswiah/Evie discovers running. “I want to keep running, past these ghosts, past everyone and everything....” The father slowly dies, staring out of the window, until he tries to take his own life. Only then does he face what he almost lost – his family. “I am so glad I’m alive, Evie. So glad we all are.”

Some of the issues faced by the African American are brought to the forefront, such as dating in a mixed relationship, working in an all-White world, and having an innocent boy shot down just because he is Black. These issues are brought to life when combined with the personal changes the father’s decision made in the lives of his family. They are not just political issues; they are issues that affect individual people. People the reader comes to know and care about.

Review excerpts:
Horn Book (January/February 2002)
“Her (Woodson’s) poetic, low-key, yet vivid writing style perfectly conveys the story’s atmosphere of quiet intensity.”

Kirkus Review (October 15, 2001) “”She’s (Woodson) interested in exploring what makes the core “I am” of a person, who they are when everything – friends, community, profession, even their names – has been stripped from them. Intellectually engaging yet strangely unmoving, this unusual story about a cut-off child seeking to reconnect and belong will give youngsters plenty to think about.” (10-14)

Publishers Weekly (December 10, 2001) “Readers facing their own identity crises will find familiar conflicts magnified and exponentially compounded here, yet instantly recognizable and optimistically addressed.” (Ages 10-up)

School Library Journal (February 1, 2002) “This multifaceted novel from the talented Woodson may be too introspective for some readers, but those sophisticated enough to manage the intricacies of the story will come away with images and characters who are impossible to forget.” (Gr 6-9)

National Book Award nominee
2003 ALA Best Book for Young Adults
SLJ Best Book
002 Booklist Editor’s Choice
2003 New York Public Libraries Books for the Teen Age
Bank Street Best Children’s Books of the Year (“Today” category/ 12 & up)
2003 Riverbank Review Children’s Books of Distinction Short list
2003-2004 Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award Master List
2003-2004 Maine Student Book Award Mater List
2002 Pennsylvania School Librarians Association Young Adult Top 40 Nominees
2004-2005 Maud Hart Lovelace Book Award Nominee (Grades 6-8)
2005 Garden State Teen Book Award Nominee

As a means of exploring the Witness Protection Plan from a different perspective, try pairing this book with the book Zach’s Lie by Roland Smith for grades 6 and up. Although not a multicultural book, the family in this book is placed into the Witness Protection Plan in order to protect them from drug traffickers that their father had gotten involved with. How do Zach and his family cope with new identities? Expand this one step further through a creative writing experience. How would you cope? Who would you become while keeping true to yourself? If teaching high school students, read excerpts from WITSEC: Inside the Federal Witness Protection Program by Pete Earley and Gerald Shur to add non-fiction accounts from real people in the program. How do the fiction family’s lives and emotions compare to those who really had to change their identities?


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