Thursday, November 19, 2009

a review of "I Hadn't Meant To Tell You This" and "Lena"

I Hadn't Meant To Tell You This
Jacqueline Woodson
(G.P.Putnam's and Sons, ISBN 0-399-24499-9)

Jacqueline Woodson
(G.P.Putnam's and Sons, ISBN 0-399-24469-7)

There are a number of things I love about the blogging world. One of them is being introduced to books that, in all likelihood, I would never have happened upon otherwise. I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This is the perfect example of this. First I read about it on My Friend Amy, where she reports how she cried through most of the book. Then I read the excellent review of it on Maw Books Blog and was finally convinced that I had to get my hands on a copy by the write up by Sandy at You've Gotta Read This!. She is correct. You do have to read this if you want to read a really fine book.

I can't say that I had ever heard of the award winning author, Jacqueline Woodson, before, and what a loss that was to me, because to put it quite simply, she is a beautiful writer. When they talk about someone's writing being poetic, it is this sort of writing that they are thinking of. Short, direct, not an extra, unneeded word to tell a sad, heartbreaking, uplifting, moving story. A story that I promise will stay with you.

Marie is a young black girl, living a comfortable life in Chauncey, an almost all black suburb of Athens, Ohio. Her father is a college professor, she lives in a very nice home and wants for very little of a material nature. Lena, the new girl at school, is from a very different world. She is poor and dirty, in hand me down clothes...what everyone, including Marie's father, calls 'poor white trash'. They seem like unlikely friends, in a town where the races do not often mix, except that they have one very powerful thing in common. Both are motherless. Marie's mother left her and her father, suffering from some mental issues, in an attempt to travel the world and 'find herself'. Lena's mother died of cancer, leaving Lena and her younger sister in the care of her less than suitable father.

They each also share a secret, one small, one very large.
"I knew what Lena was getting at. I had read about stuff like this. But it couldn't happen to anybody I knew. It happened to sad, foreign girls in Third World countries. To girls living in crowded apartments. Or in the South. What was it doing here in Chauncey, Ohio? How could it happen to Lena, the girl I was walking home from school with? The girl how sat next to me in homeroom? Lena with her ragged clothes and crooked half smile. With her hard, sad eyes. friend."
Now I really don't want to give a spoiler, but think as I might, I can think of no way not to and tell you about the second book, Lena. See, it is the action at the end of the first book that makes the second necessary. Lena has sworn Marie to secrecy about what is going on, fearing, with cause, that she will be separated from her sister if the authorities find out. But she also decided that things have gotten to a point where she must take action and the action she takes at the end of the book is to set out on the road with her little sister, in search of her mother's family down south.

And I must say, at the end of reading I Hadn't Meant To Tell You This I was very upset. I could not get the idea of these two young girls on the road, all alone, and the dangers they might face, out of my mind. Yes, logically I know that they are characters in a book, but my concern is a testament to how very real Woodson is able to make these girls. And it seems I was not the only one. As Woodson writes on her website, she receive so many letters and e-mails, wanting to know what happens to the sisters, that she wrote the sequel Lena, to bring the story to a conclusion. A very worth conclusion in my opinion and I would recommend you read the two books together. Don't blame me if you read the first and do not have the second one on hand to see what happens.

Where I Hadn't Meant To Tell You This is written from Marie's point of view, Lena tells her own story in the second. While Amy may have cried her way through the first book, and I will agree it is sad and upsetting, at times I found Lena totally heartbreaking. Every time a car stopped to give the girls a ride, I was afraid. As Lena looks back on her young life, her memories of her mother, of what life became after her mother died, of her fear for her sister, it was so sad, so real. When she shares her dreams of a world filled with clean clothes and bubble baths, hot chocolate and a full stomach and most of all, a safe home...well, I admit I was a puddle.

These are classified as YA books, but I can assure you that adults will in no way find them wanting. They are stories that make us question our ideas about race, about family, about friendship. They are very sad at times and tackle some difficult topics but ultimately that speak to the power of friendship and the power of people who are good at heart to make a difference. Lena, with all the difficulties she has faced, has not lost all hope, as Marie tells her father...
"You know what Lena says, Daddy?"
"She says we're all just people here."
A tiny crease formed between his eyebrows. "I'm glad she can still believe that."
And hopefully so will you when you read these two very fine, enjoyable little books.
I borrowed both of these books from my local library, but I have realized that I will need to buy my own copies, because they are books that I will want to read again.


  1. Oh Caite, I have goosebumps and tears in my eyes! What an absolutely beautiful review, a heartfelt review! I swear, when I read YA books that seem to talk down to its readers because of the intended age, I lose my mind. Woodson is the perfect example (so is Lois Lowry) of how YA can be a work of art without sacrificing a thing. I am now a serious fangirl of Woodson, and intend to read everything she has written. I may even have myself a Woodson month sometime.

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  3. well, I thank you Sandy...and Amy and Natasha... for introducing me to this books, these books and this author. I agree that I will have to read all the rest of her books now

  4. Hello Caite – I hope you don’t mind me dropping by. I’m a British author and a fellow Bookblogs member and my next novel, Thaw, will be published online next year after its physical publication. I wanted to invite you (and your readers) to participate in my Blogsplash - there’s more information at Thanks for listening!

  5. How could you not want to read these after your review? I think you've definitely convinced me-- I might start crying right now actually ;p

  6. These are on my wish list after all the great reviews you mentioned and now your review is really making me feel like I'm missing out.

  7. Oh, I'm SO HAPPY that you discovered Woodson. She is my favorite and I'm a huge fangirl!! I haven't read Lena yet, but I need to rush out and get it as well.

  8. I must say I loved these you might have noticed.
    Sandy, if the author says it is YA, I will believe her, but otherwise I would not know.

    She...I must say I get a little choked up re-reading my own review. I'm glad I'm not the only one. ;-)

    Kathy, I hope you love them!

    Natasha, I strongly recommend you read Lena. Maybe I just need more hopefulness, but I think you will enjoy it. a lot.

  9. Caite--now you've done it! I had sworn I was absolutely NOT going to put another book on my TBR pile until I cleared some out, and now I have TWO. Thank you so much for the absolutely beautiful and inspiring review.

  10. I've seen the other reviews on the other blogs about these books and you just made them sound all the more imperative to read them.

  11. This is one feature I need to check out ... and I did end up paying a lifetime membership as soon as I hit my 200 limit ... I knew I had to go on and join!

  12. Thanks for giving these books a try, Caite, I am quite the emotional reader, LOL.

    I'm glad you found them worth your time. :)


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