Remember Us

Remember Us
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Release Date
October 10, 2023
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National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson brings readers a powerful story that delves deeply into life’s burning questions about time and memory and what we take with us into the future.

It seems like Sage’s whole world is on fire the summer before she starts seventh grade. As house after house burns down, her Bushwick neighborhood gets referred to as “The Matchbox” in the local newspaper. And while Sage prefers to spend her time shooting hoops with the guys, she’s also still trying to figure out her place inside the circle of girls she’s known since childhood. A group that each day, feels further and further away from her. But it’s also the summer of Freddy, a new kid who truly gets Sage. Together, they reckon with the pain of missing the things that get left behind as time moves on, savor what’s good in the present, and buoy each other up in the face of destruction. And when the future comes, it is Sage’s memories of the past that show her the way forward. Remember Us speaks to the power of both letting go . . . and holding on.

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"The Matchbox" in New York City
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Sage and her mother live in Bushwick, Brooklyn, New York in the 1970s, after the death of her father, a firefighter. Her mother works at the local high school, and is writing a book in her summer off. Sage likes the neighborhood, and is glad when Freddy moves in, since he also likes to play basketball. Freddy's family has moved to the neighborhood because there have been a lot of fires in his old neighborhood, but there are a growing number of fires in Bushwick as well, leading the news media to dub it "the Matchbox". Because of this, Sage's mother is saving her money to buy a new, brick house in another location. The local children are rather interested in the fires, even though some have been burnt out of their homes. In addition to playing basketball, they frequently play in empty lots, using old mattresses as trampolines. Sage has a highly unpleasant encounter with an older boy in the neighborhood who questions "what kind of girl" she is, since she plays basketball and wears shorts, t shirts, and tennis shoes. He also takes her basketball, which was her father's, and throws it where she can't retrieve it. This rattles her more than she cares to admit, and the fires also prey on her thoughts. At one point, she sets items in the bathroom on fire, which alarms her mother and causes her to ground Sage. There are an increasing number of events of concern in the neighborhood, including the death of a young boy in a house fire and the hit and run death of dog that is then burned in the street, and Sage starts to realize that her mother is going to move them eventually, and she will not live in her beloved neighborhood or be close to Freddy anymore. She doesn't try to fight it, and once the move happens, she is able to create a new life with herself, even gathering a group of girls from her new school who like to play basketball. She occasionally talks to Freddy, and she and her mother do go back to Bushwick to visit. It's not the same, and as more and more houses burn (sometimes by landlords who wants the insurance money), Sage realizes that the Bushwick that she knew and loved will change, and that no one will remember that she was there.
Good Points
Readers who got to know what life was like for young Woodson in her autobiographical Brown Girl Dreaming will find this fictionalized prose novel picks up the story of another part of Woodson's childhood. The contemplation of whether or not she should be playing basketball is good for young readers to see; my students are always amazed when I tell them that girls at our school could not wear slacks to classes until 1970. There is a lot about the past that is NOT remembered, and I love when I see small pieces of the past presented in middle grade literature. There are a decent amount of popular culture references, and the mention of The O'Jay's Family Reunion places this after 1975, making it a good book to read with Parson's Clouds Over California or Kalmar's Stealing Mt. Rushmore. This is definitely a very evocative book capturing a specific time and place.

The feelings of nostalgia will make this book very popular with teachers and librarians, especially since Woodson is such a well regarded author. For sensitive readers, the episode with the dog killed by a car is a bit grim.

This is a good choice for readers who liked the rather similar Winter Sky (2014) by Patricia Reily Giff, or this author's Gingersnap (2013) which is set in Brooklyn a generation before. It also reminded me a little of Rylant's Rosetown, which was set at about the same time period.
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