Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The House You Pass on the Way

Woodson, Jacqueline. The House You Pass on the Way. New York: Speak - Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 1997. Print.
[Book cover credit: librarything.com/work/248239]

ALA Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, GLBTQ (2006)
Lambda Literary Award, Children's and Young Adult (1997)

Staggerlee has never had many friends. Her classmates think she's stuck-up, her ex-best friend ditched her when she found out about Staggerlee's famous grandparents, even her older brother, Charlie Horse, has left home and Staggerlee to go to college. Now, at least for the summer, she has Trout. Will she, too, leave Staggerlee behind? Staggerlee, who always stays in The House You Pass on the Way to somewhere else.

I'm always amazed by how quickly I get sucked in to Jacqueline Woodson's books. The House You Pass on the Way is barley over 100 pages, and yet it is full of growth, a well-rounded cast of characters, and so  much emotion. It even covers enough time to be both a little bluesy and a little hopeful at the same time. It's the perfect book for a rainy afternoon.

Staggerlee is kind of a loner, and, for the most part, she likes it that way. It gives her space to think and to play her music. In a town that is mostly Black, her mother is white. The statue in the center of town is of her grandparents, and it marks Staggerlee and the rest of her family as "special," something her classmates see as "better than." Also, we find out early on, Staggerlee was in love (in a sixth grade kind of way) with her ex-best friend Hazel. She has no words to describe the feeling she had for Hazel, but she knows she should keep them a secret. She feels different and out of place in her small town.
She looked so different from everyone. Her clothes, the thick-soled hiking boots, her hair. And she felt different too--off-step somehow, on the outside. What did it sound like, Staggerlee wondered, having someone call your name across a crowded school yard? How did it feel to turn to the sound of your name, to see some smiling face or waving hand and know it was for you and you alone?
And this is where Staggerlee's cousin Trout comes in. They understand each other in more ways than they could have predicted at the beginning of their summer together. They spend that crazy, transformative summer between middle school and high school together, and they each gain from the other the strength to figure out who they really may be.

Though the circumstances may not be universal, Staggerlee's feeling of being on the outside is something just about everyone has experienced at one time or another, and her friendship with Trout, the way it helps Staggerlee to define herself and the vulnerability that creates, is beautifully rendered in the text. Even though The House You Pass on the Way can be read as an overall sad book, the melancholy is never overwhelming. And the writing, oh the writing, is so lyrical, emotional, and just plain gorgeous.

I can't remember who suggested this book on the yalsa-bk listserv. I also can't remember if it what suggested to someone looking for books about African American teens in non-urban settings or someone looking for LGBTQ titles. The House You Pass on the Way would fit nicely on either list (yay!).

Book source: Philly Free Library

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Pam said...

Oh wow fabulous review and this seems like such a powerful book. Thanks for putting it on my radar!

Lawral the Librarian said...


I think this oldie-but-goodie needs to be brought up every once and a while from a new group of people to discover. :)