While I had never heard of Jacqueline Woodson before being assigned to read one of her novels, I am now very intrigued by her as an author. I love that she takes risks in her writing and touches on subject matter that many would stay away from, but yet is very beneficial for students to come into contact with and learn from as they grow into young adults and become increasingly more immersed in society.
I read Woodson’s Hush, which I wrote about here, and as we discussed and related our novel to some of her other works, many common elements and themes were found across her writing. One of the major themes present in both Hush and The House You Pass on the Way is identity. Characters in both novels struggled with who they were and what defined them as people, which is a question that many of us deal with in the real world. Woodson’s approach to this theme involved exploration of identity, and I’m not sure that either of these book’s characters really came to any solid conclusion about their identity. In this way, I think Woodson navigates the question of identity in a rather peculiar way. For instance, it is strange to me that Evie in Hush would spend almost the entire book wondering who she is and trying to find a place for herself, only to be left as the reader still questioning that same thing. It’s true that Evie found a place on the track team, but I felt like she was still searching for something deeper. However, this interpretation of identity closely parallels reality in that I don’t think we ever do truly find our identity and can say that who we are is permanent. Rather, identity is something that is fluid and ever-changing as the seasons. As humans, we are constantly forming and reforming the critical elements of our lives that make up our identity, and so I find it fascinating that although this is what Evie was searching for, Woodson ends the novel absent of a final conclusion for this question.
Woodson also tackles the idea of keeping memories alive in some of her literature. For example, this is a big part of Evie’s life as her family enters the Witness Protection Program and is also a major theme in her picture book, Sweet, Sweet Memory. In this story, Sarah and her family mourn the death of her grandfather, but find solace as they reminisce about things that he used to say and do. Woodson’s attention to the importance of memories is slightly bittersweet in Hush because it is Evie’s desire to return to the place of those memories that causes so much pain and hardship. Her family must move on and will never be able to go back to Denver, and Evie struggles to accept this fact and let go of the past. However, Sweet, Sweet Memory uses the past as a comforting element for Sarah after the passing of her grandpa. After remembering the words he used to say, she is able to share her own memory of him and smile. I think it’s interesting that Woodson uses the element of memories for these two very different purposes. However, the idea that memories should be preserved still prevails in both stories, as Evie eventually realizes that she doesn’t have to let go of the past in order to take comfort in the future.
Overall, I think Woodson is unique in that a lot of her stories share a common thread, whether it is the challenges of finding ones identity or the importance of keeping memories alive. I think students would definitely benefit from reading her work, as they would certainly face difficult questions as they approach the struggles that characters like Evie face. However, it is through such questioning as we read that we are able to grow, and Woodson definitely provides many opportunities to do just that.