The daughter of an interracial couple, 14-year-old Staggerlee is already an outsider when she wonders if she is gay, too. PW's starred review called this a "poignant tale of self-discovery," and praised Woodson's "graceful, poetic" prose. Ages 12-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"Sitting big and silent with all her family's land spread out beyond it," Staggerlee Canan's house, once belonging to her famous grandparents, stands as a refuge from the townspeople's gossip about her parents' "mixed" marriage. Here the pensive 14-year-old can quietly contemplate all the ways she is different from her classmates and her older sister, "smart, popular" Dotti. Staggerlee has never had a close friend besides Hazel back in sixth grade, the first and only girl she ever kissed. But when her cousin Tyler (called "Trout") comes to spend the summer, the two girls are drawn together by their common heritage and longings. As soft-spoken and poetic as the heroine herself, Woodson's (I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This) prose gracefully expresses Staggerlee's slow emergence from isolation as she and Trout grapple with their shared secret (Trout traces in the dirt by the river: "Staggerlee and Trout were here today. Maybe they will and maybe they won't be gay."). Minor charactersStaggerlee's gregarious father, her independent, conspicuously white mother ("it's only three, four white women in all of Sweet Gum") and her four diverse siblingsadd depth and complexity to the heroine's small world. Using a nondidactic approach, the author gently probes questions regarding racism and homosexuality in this poignant tale about growing pains and the ongoing process of self-discovery. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)
VOYA - Lynne B. Hawkins
Staggerlee's name is her own, changed from her given name, Evangeline, to a proud name from a song her grandfather sang on stage. Her grandparents were well-known performers and civil rights activists killed in a bombing during the summer of 1969. Her father, who moved back to his childhood home in Sweet Gum, has been ostracized by his sisters for marrying a white woman. Staggerlee and her siblings have felt the sting of taunts that they are not entirely African American. She loves her family and is proud of her grandparents, but she, at fourteen, is confused about exactly who she is. The death of one of Daddy's sisters prompts the other, Ida Mae, to write them saying that her adopted daughter, fifteen-year-old Trout, wants to meet them all and to stay with them this summer. It is for Staggerlee an abrupt request after twenty years, for it is an opportunity to meet and learn about the family she has never seen. Trout becomes the outspoken and honest friend Staggerlee has been needing. As her feelings for Trout grow, Staggerlee realizes why Trout, who admits that the visit was not her idea, was sent to Sweet Gum. Woodson writes beautifully about feelings and issues, and this slim novel is packed with them. Racism is discussed clearly, family barriers are built and torn down, sexuality and young women's coming-of-age are explored. The house you pass on the way, the summer one must pass through on the way to becoming one's self, is a painful, growing place more often explored for young men than young women. Woodson stops well short of being sexually explicit. And while the reading level is appropriate for middle schoolers, the ideas explored-racism, family barriers, homosexuality-might draw older YAs who are ready to think about complex issues. VOYA Codes: 3Q 3P S (Readable without serious defects, Will appeal with pushing, Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).
The ALAN Review - Joan F. Kaywell
As the title suggests, every house - every family - has its own story. Evangeline "Stagerlee" Canan's grandparents were killed fighting for black rights, but the little town of Sweet Gum only knows them as heroes rather than the people they were. Ironically, because Stagerlee's father Elijah married a white woman, his two sisters stopped speaking to him for twenty years. Stagerlee's mother explains that it isn't the family they reject but the idea of them that the sisters can't handle. A family connection is made when Elijah receives a letter from Ida Mae informing him of her sister's death. Ida Mae thinks it's time to reconnect and asks him to take her adopted daughter, Tyler, for the summer. The family agrees, and Stagerlee is enamored of her cousin, a girl who calls herself "Trout" because of the way the fish fights if caught. Trout tells Stagerlee that the real reason she's there is because she needs to be "straightened out." The two fifteen-year-olds have something in common, and Stagerlee's glad to know that she's not the only one in the world to have kissed another girl. This little book raises big questions, the biggest of which - Why can't I just be me? - has plagued society since the beginning of time. It's a question worth discussing; unfortunately, the book doesn't develop answers with any kind of depth.
School Library Journal
Gr 6-9In this understated story set in a small, mostly African-American community in the South, Staggerlee Canan is shunned by her peers because her mother is white. This is not the sole cause of her isolation, however. She has a secret. In sixth grade, she had kissed another girl. Rejected by that friend, Staggerlee has no one to talk to about her sexual feelings until her adopted cousin, Trout, visits for the summer when both girls are 14. Both wonder if they are gay, but sexual identity is really only one of the things that troubles them. Their platonic intimacy is the intense kind shared by friends who see themselves as different from the crowd. Asked by Trout to say whether she's black or white, Staggerlee replies, "I'm me. That's all." That they seem to be taking different paths in the end adds to the story's poignancy. This richly layered novel will be appreciated for its affecting look at the anxious wonderings of presexual teens, its portrait of a complex interracial family, and its snapshot of the emotionally wrenching but inarticulate adolescent search for self. It's notable both for its quality and for the out-of-the-way places it goes.Claudia Morrow, Berkeley Public Library, CA
A newfound confidante and a breath of common sense clears away a teenager's guilt and dismay over her dawning sexual preference in this thoughtful, deceptively low-key story from Woodson (From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun, 1995, etc.).
The middle child in the county's only mixed-race family, Evangeline defiantly changed her name years ago to Staggerlee, after the anti-hero in a ballad, but the finger-pointing has driven her within herself, leaving her friendless and lonelylonelier still for the memory of the pleasure she took in kissing a girl in grade school. Along comes Trout, another self-named teenager, from a branch of the family that had cut off her parents after their marriage. The attraction is quick, strong, and mutual; Trout's visit may be a short one, but it's long enough for each to open up, find the courage to say the word gayand to remember that they're only 14, too young to close off options. Woodson takes readers another step down the road when Trout later writes to admit that she's gone head over heels for a guy, and Staggerlee, though feeling betrayed, realizes that she and Trout are both growing and going their own ways. A provocative topic, treated with wisdom and sensitivity, with a strong secondary thread exploring some of the inner and outer effects of biracialism.
Read an Excerpt
An Excerpt from The House You Pass on the Way
Her father had married a white woman. That's how Sweet Gum people had
talked about it, talked about her mother. Not to their faces, but it got
back to them. The whole family did well at hiding the sting of townspeople's
words. It was not what they whispered that stung. But how they
whispered. Yes, Mama was white and that made all of themCharlie Horse
and Dotti and Battle, Hope and Staggerleepart white. The only mixed-race
family in Sweet Gum, maybe in all of Calmuth County. No, it wasn't
what people said, for that part was true. But Mama was more than
ìwhite.î She was Mama, quiet and easygoing. She kept to herself. When
she smiled, her whole face brightened, and tiny dimples showed at the
edge of her lips. Why was white the word that hung on people's
lips? At school, when the kids talked about her mama, they whispered the
word or said, "You're mama's white!" and it sounded loud and
ugly, like something was wrong with Mama. And if something was wrong with
Mama, then that meant that something was wrong with all of them. . . .
And when people asked her what it felt like to be both black and white,
she didn't have an answer for them. Most times, she just shrugged and
looked away or kicked her hiking boot across the ground and mumbled something
like "fine." Her family had never talked about it, the way they hadn't
talked about alot of things lately.