Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Behind You

What is grief? What does it feel like for those left behind when someone, who is loved, dies? Author Jacqueline Woodson gets readers to consider these questions her 2004 YA novel Behind You. An excellent review can be found in the Rhapsody in Books Weblog. What child today is not affected by the death of someone they love, experiencing it sometimes multiple times?

Craftwise, Woodson chooses the inciting event to be the Central Park shooting death of a talented black fifteen year-old adolescent, named Jeremiah. He is from a successful, artistic family, plays basketball and attends a New York prep school. The police had made a mistake and shot the wrong man.  But because Jeremiah is from a middle class family, Woodson's story provides a glimpse into the wealthy mostly white prep school community, into Jeremiah's white girlfriend's family, and his own successful parents' lives. We see the biases of middle class black and white communities as they intersect through Jeremiah's death. This adds many layers to the story. The characters and settings are believable and the writing beautiful.

The grief was told through multiple first person perspectives of friends, a lover, parents. I found universal truth and meaning here. The feeling that the spirit of the deceased remains close by, maybe watching, seems real. There is a shifting in the lives after a death as new attachments are made and old attachments redefined. Jacqueline Woodson has shown this, in a story that transcends color and class.

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