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The House You Pass on the Way

The House You Pass on the Way

5.0 6
by Jacqueline Woodson

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A lyrical coming-of-age story from a three-time Newbery Honor winning author

Thirteen-year-old Staggerlee used to be called Evangeline, but she took on a fiercer name. She's always been different—set apart by the tragic deaths of her grandparents in an anti-civil rights bombing, by her parents' interracial marriage, and by her family's retreat from


A lyrical coming-of-age story from a three-time Newbery Honor winning author

Thirteen-year-old Staggerlee used to be called Evangeline, but she took on a fiercer name. She's always been different—set apart by the tragic deaths of her grandparents in an anti-civil rights bombing, by her parents' interracial marriage, and by her family's retreat from the world. This summer she has a new reason to feel set apart—her confused longing for her friend Hazel. When cousin Trout comes to stay, she gives Staggerlee a first glimpse of her possible future selves and the world beyond childhood.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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
Kirkus Reviews
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 lonely—lonelier 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 gay—and 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.

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.50(d)
HL690L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt


“I need to tell you something, Stag. I need to tell you why Ida Mae sent me here. If we’re going to be friends, I don’t want it starting out on a lie.”

“I don’t know if it’s something I want to hear.”

Trout stared at her for a long time. “If you don’t want me to tell you . . . I won’t.”

But Staggerlee knew why Ida Mae had sent Trout here; she could see it in Trout’s eyes and she could feel it when Trout sat down next to her. There was a feeling growing inside Trout, and Staggerlee knew it because it was growing inside her too.

“I know why, Trout,” Staggerlee whispered.

“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.”—SLJ


“As soft-spoken and poetic as the heroine herself, Woodson’s prose gracefully expresses Staggerlee’s slow emergence from isolation as she and Trout grapple with their shared secret.”

Publishers Weekly


After Tupac and D Foster

Behind You

Beneath a Meth Moon

Between Madison and Palmetto

Brown Girl Dreaming

The Dear One


From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun


I Hadn’t Meant to Tell You This

If You Come Softly

Last Summer with Maizon



Maizon at Blue Hill

Miracle’s Boys

Peace, Locomotion

Published by the Penguin Group
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(a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
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Registered Offices: Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England


First published in the United States of America by Delacorte Press, 1997
Published simultaneously by Speak, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
and G. P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2003
This edition published by Puffin Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2010



Copyright © Jacqueline Woodson, 1997

All rights reserved


“Desperado” by Don Henley & Glenn Frey © 1973 Cass County Music/Red Cloud Music
All rights reserved. Used by permission.


Woodson, Jacqueline.
The house you pass on the way / Jacqueline Woodson.—1st G. P. Putnam’s Sons ed.
p. cm.
Summary: When fourteen-year-old Staggerlee, the daughter of a racially mixed marriage,
spends a summer with her cousin Trout, she begins to question her sexuality to Trout and catches a glimpse of her possible future self.

ISBN: 9781101477977

[1. Cousins—Fiction. 2. Racially mixed people—Fiction 3. Interracial marriage—Fiction.
4. African Americans—Fiction. 5. Lesbians—Fiction. 6. Homosexuality—Fiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.W868Ho 2003 [Fic]—dc21 2003001277





The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.

Table of Contents


Also by Jacqueline Woodson

Title Page

Copyright Page



Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen


In Her Own Words

Jacqueline Woodson Shares Some Thoughts and Insights About The House You Pass on the Way

An Excerpt from Brown Girl Dreaming

An Excerpt from If You Come Softly

For Toshi, Juna, Kali, and Tashawn

And freedom? Oh, freedom.

Well that’s just some people talking.

Your prison is walking through this world all alone.

IT WAS WINTER THAT FINALLY MADE STAGGERLEE remember. Something about the way the cold grabbed hold of her as she walked along the river, her dog, Creek, galloping behind her, their shadows like ink against the white snow. And in the distance, the house sitting big and silent with all her family’s land spread out beyond it. Even the land seemed vast and muted now. Staggerlee turned to look at it—remembering all the corn and collards, all the wheat that had been harvested. The land didn’t seem capable now, flat and snow-covered. All spring, men had come, men her father had hired to work the land. And Staggerlee had watched them moving slowly through the fields, plowing and planting, their faces lined and weathered. Then fall had come, and these same men had returned to harvest the corn and wheat that seemed to grow for miles and miles. Then winter—and the men faded into the thick quiet. Even their laughter—the way it carried back to the house from the fields—where was it now?

Staggerlee squinted up at the sun. It was weak today. Wintry. Everything about this place had settled into winter. Even the fish had disappeared, moved closer to the bottom of the river. And the meadowlarks and mourning doves. They were gone too. She shivered, wrapped her arms tighter around herself as she walked. In the distance, a horse whinnied. Creek ran ahead of her, skirting the icy edge of the river.

Autumn had been new—a new school, a new baby sister, the choir. But now she had fallen into the routine of it, and the cold and snow had settled in on Sweet Gum. She walked slowly along the river, picking up shards of ice that had formed along the bank and gazing into them where rainbows shot through in every direction. She stopped walking and turned slowly, full face toward the river. Where would it take her? she wondered. She wished the river were time itself and could take her back to someplace before now. Maybe before last summer. Back to the beginning of her own time. And maybe she could start over there.

And the letter from her cousin, Trout, when it finally arrived late in January, its edges smudged and bending. And the way her legs buckled when she got to the part about—about Trout and . . . Yes, that had made her want to remember. She wanted to make sense of it all, of that summer, of what happened with Trout.

Creek turned and ran back toward her, barking. She reached down to pet him.

“Do you remember it, Creek?” she whispered. “If you could tell the story, what would you say?”

The tiny brown patches above the dog’s eyes twitched, and Staggerlee smiled. It always made him seem to be thinking.

“What do you remember, dog?” But she wasn’t looking at Creek any longer, she was looking out at the river and beyond it—to her own beginning. The river wind blew hard and cold around her, whipping her hair up over her face. It was longer now, and the brown-gold ringlets felt wild in the wind. She closed her eyes and smiled. This was her hair. And her mother’s. And her father’s.

But her name, Staggerlee, that was her own. A name she had given herself a long, long time ago.

She was born Evangeline Ian Canan at Sweet Gum General, the third of five. Fourteen years ago. Pretty baby. In the baby pictures, she is smiling or reaching up to hug someone. Her hair was red then, and straight. And her eyes were blue like her mother’s but had changed over time. Now they were brown. Her mother said she didn’t cry often as a child. Staggerlee had gone through the pictures over and over. There were photos of Charlie Horse—her older brother—crying as a baby. Now Charlie Horse was eighteen. When he came home from college at Christmas, Staggerlee showed him the pictures and he laughed. He had a sweet laugh, her brother did. And now Staggerlee smiled, remembering how he’d hugged her and said, “You were just the prettiest of us, girl. That’s why there’re so many smiling pictures of you.” Charlie Horse was older now. College had changed him; he seemed more thoughtful. When he was home, he spent long hours at the piano, practicing right through lunch and dinner. He had always been able to go for hours and hours without eating. Now he seemed able to go days.

And there were crying pictures of Dotti too. Dotti, who was sixteen now. Smart and popular Dotti. In town, boys and men stared at her, their mouths slightly open. Staggerlee watched them. They were dazzled—as much as she hated that word, it was the only one she could find to describe how people reacted to her sister. But Dotti seemed unaware—almost as though she was looking away from it because she didn’t want to see it. Maybe it was because of this—of how beautiful she was—that she worked so hard at school. “My brain’s going to be here,” she once said to Staggerlee, “way after my looks are gone.” And Staggerlee had laughed and said, “Not if you lose your mind.” Dotti. Born with Daddy’s lips and Mama’s eyes. In the baby pictures of her, she looked as though her heart was breaking.

There were even crying pictures of Battle, who was two now, and one or two of Hope—the baby, who still cried and cried.

Again and again she had searched through the photo albums. Again and again she saw the pictures of Evangeline Ian—pretty, smiling baby. As she grew older, that smiling baby girl became her own tiny burden. She was the good child—the happy one. The one that never needed, never asked for anything, never caused any trouble.

It was windy along the river, and cold. She knew by the time she got back to the house her nose and cheeks would be red and numb. Mama would be in the kitchen making lunch or nursing the baby. She closed her eyes. Hope had been born beautiful, with Daddy’s broad forehead and Mama’s delicate hands. Over the months, as her eyes opened and changed, she became even prettier, and often Staggerlee would come downstairs in the morning to find Mama or Daddy snapping picture after picture. Some evenings she sat on the stairs, half hidden by the banister, and watched them coo over the baby. She wasn’t jealous—just curious. Had they been like this with her? Would Hope remember it? Would Hope become a good girl the way she had?

Her father had married a white woman. That’s how Sweet Gum people 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 them—Charlie Horse and Dotti and Battle, Hope and Staggerlee—part 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 “white.” 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, “Your 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.

Meet the Author

Born on February 12th in Columbus, Ohio, Jacqueline Woodson grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, and Brooklyn, New York and graduated from college with a B.A. in English. She now writes full-time and has recently received the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults. Her other awards include a Newbery Honor, two Coretta Scott King awards, two National Book Award finalists, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Although she spends most of her time writing, Woodson also enjoys reading the works of emerging writers and encouraging young people to write, spending time with her friends and her family, and sewing. Jacqueline Woodson currently resides in Brooklyn, New York.

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The House You Pass On The Way 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So beautiful
Lawral More than 1 year ago
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. 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. Book source: Philly Free Library
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is an awesome book for teens to read, being only 15 myself I know what its like to feel and think what she is. Just like her I have had a friend like that, and it nice to read a book that has to do with homosexuality that I can relate to.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is heartwarming! It shows how racisom and being predjudice still is present in the world today. Why can't we all just be ourselves? This book is excellant.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was a great read. I really liked how it was written.READ THIS BOOK!