You may have heard of Jacqueline Woodson from her recent win of the National Book Award for Brown Girl Dreaming, but you might not know about some of her older books, or that she’s written lesbian books. The House You Pass On the Way has been on my radar (and my shelves) for a long time, but the recognition that Woodson has gotten recently finally convinced me to pick it up. This is a tiny book, only 99 pages in my edition. It’s the story of the summer when Staggerlee was fourteen, and when she felt confused and alone. It’s also the summer when she met her (estranged, adopted) cousin Trout.
This is a book that tackles some quintessential young adult topics: confusion around identity, isolation, and, of course, falling in love over a summer. But these are topics that are handled so well. Some stories I feel like I can just sink into and be absorbed by, and within a few pages, I knew this was one of them. It’s an atmospheric novel, as well as an emotional one. Woodson somehow managed to evoke a lot of feeling within a very small space. It’s subtly done, and there are layers at work here. Not just sexual identity issues, but also being mixed race, as well as dealing with being a minor celebrity due to her grandparents’ cause of death.
I wouldn’t go into this book expecting a love story, but it is an interesting and moving story about accepting yourself and finding a place in the world. I would highly recommend this one.