“And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so? I did. And what did you want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.” Words by Raymond Carver and the opening to Behind You. Jacqueline Woodson, one of today’s most highly acclaimed authors of young adult fiction, has created another masterfully written story. Reading Behind You it is easy to understand why the author is the recipient of two National Book Award nominations, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, a Coretta Scott King Award and two Coretta Scott King honors.
Set in the author’s hometown of New York, Behind You is a poetically written novel telling the story of Jeremiah, Miah to his family and friends. The story is bitter-sweet; it deals with a life-event familiar to far too many youth in today’s America. I imagine young readers around the globe growing up in a surreal and oftentimes unexpectedly violent community will connect with the voices of the book’s main characters. There is Ellie, Jeremiah’s Caucasian girlfriend, a young woman who openly displays her love for Jeremiah, even in the face of her parents’ ambivalence toward the inter-racial relationship. There are Normand and Nelia, Jeremiah’s divorced parents, two people who continue to live within a stone’s throw of each other while having grown miles apart emotionally. And there is Carlton, Jeremiah’s talented basketball playing friend, a young man who feels too often out-of-sorts.
A single event happened upon Jeremiah, an accident never meant to happen involving the New York City Police Department, sets the story off. It is this single event that tugs and pulls at, hammers and reshapes the lives of those closest to Jeremiah. This event brings some of the main characters closer together, allowing them to risk penetrating each other’s shield long enough to develop and maintain lasting friendships. What surprised me most about the book was how Jeremiah’s view of his family and friends affected him at a time when many may have let go, turned their backs upon their loved ones and ventured into a rewarding and yet undiscovered future.
Behind Youis a book meant to be read by young adults. Howbeit, the author’s fluid writing style (this book almost seems a masterful poetic work) will readily be enjoyed and treasured by adults. Jacqueline Woodson is a talented and gifted author who does not disappoint.