Beyond Boundaries

Voice and Silence in Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming


  • Helma van Lierop-Debrauwer Tilburg University



memoir, autobiography, voice, silence, implied reader


In 2014, the American writer Jacqueline Woodson published Brown Girl Dreaming, the story of her childhood in free verse, which was classified as young adult literature. Most US reviewers characterized and appreciated the book both as a human rights narrative of a young brown girl’s coming of age against the socio-political background of racism and the Civil Rights Movement in the United States of the 1960s, and as a personal history of her development as a writer.

In this article the major focus will be on how Brown Girl Dreaming as both a political memoir and an autobiographical narrative of identity formation is fleshed out. On the basis of my analysis of these two plot lines, I will further argue that its categorization as young adult literature disguises that the novel addresses a dual audience of adult and young readers. In my argumentation related to the political and personal character of the novel, as well as in my discussion of the crossover potential of Brown Girl Dreaming, I will focus on the presence of voice and silence.

Author Biography

Helma van Lierop-Debrauwer, Tilburg University

Helma van Lierop-Debrauwer is Professor of Children’s Literature at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. She is coordinator of the Children’s and Adolescent Literature Master’s program at this university. She also teaches in the Erasmus Mundus International Master Children’s Literature, Media and Culture. Until January 2021, Van Lierop-Debrauwer was president of the Dutch section of the International Board on Books for Young People. Her research interests are life writing for young readers, adolescent literature, and the relationship between children’s literature and age studies.





Beyond Boundaries