Hush by Jacqueline Woodson
Children’s Novel—Realistic Fiction
Grades 6 and up
Rating: 5 Stars
Summary: After her father witnesses a race-related murder, the safety of Toswiah’s family is threatened and they must move away and change their identities. Toswiah becomes Evie and tries to reinvent herself in a strange place amidst a family that is quickly falling apart.
I have always wondered what life is like for those that enter the Witness Protection Program and must begin a life in an identity that is completely different from who they really are. After reading Hush, I can say for sure that I would never want to go through the utter hell that Evie and her family experience as a result of a separation from everything the once knew.
First off, I think that this novel is a great piece of literature. It was a page turner and I simply could not put it down! Woodson portrays the story in the first person through Evie’s perspective, and I think this choice enables you as the reader to “have the knowledge of the experience,” including her struggles, in a very authentic way (Peterson and Eeds, p. 50). It is through her eyes that we see how difficult it is for Evie to cope not only in a new environment, but as a new person in that environment. Her emotions are so raw that it is impossible not to feel a tug on your own heart for this poor girl. I truly cannot fathom having to leave everything that you have ever known behind and begin a new life. In the end, Evie shines through as a courageous warrior, albeit with her share of battle wounds. However, as Peterson and Eeds discuss, the way that a character copes with problems is what makes them human (p. 40). Although I can’t relate to the same situation and struggle of identity, Evie’s vulnerability really opens her up as a character that is innately human, which allows me as the reader to connect with her on a deeper, more emotional level.
Many of the issues in Hush would make it a very controversial choice in the classroom. I imagine that many parents would be unhappy if I asked their child to read this book, however I feel like many of these topics are vital to talk about with kids and this book would be a worthwhile read. The issue of racial conflict is an obvious one. I think it would be beneficial just to get a feel for what students think is at work behind this conflict and see where that conversation leads. Even the simple act of facilitating discussion among students so that they can begin to think about issues of race is important. Naturally, kids might wonder about how race played into the murder of Raymond Taylor, and this is something that I would not try to shelter my students from. Unfortunately, racial discrimination is a very real part of the society we live in and if children don’t encounter this fact in school, then they will inevitably encounter it somewhere else. As a teacher, I think it is my responsibility to talk about these societal issues because school is a much safer place to ask questions and voice opinions, rather than sending kids out into the real world to learn about it on their own.
Another relevant topic discussed in Hush is the formation of identity. I would read this novel with middle school students, as this is the age at which kids are really starting to question their own identities and form who they are as human beings. I think it would be neat to talk about Evie’s struggles with identity and the things that she did not want to let go of. Everyone goes through that phase of wondering who we are, and this book challenges the essential pieces of our identity and whether or not we would be able to let go of that. This could turn into a project for students to explore the hypothetical—if they were to enter the Witness Protection Program, what would they miss the most about their live? What might be difficult about creating a new identity? Since this is something that most people don’t have to think about, we often take things in life for granted. Reflecting on Evie’s experiences and struggles would be a good way for students to stop and think about their own lives, and perhaps learn to appreciate who they are and what they have.