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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou, is my “popular author's first book” choice for the 50 Book Challenge

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings


The amount of 1 star reviews, and the vitriol, that this book has received from irate parents really disturbs me – even moreso than the 'graphic' content within, and that disturbed me quite a bit. A trigger warning for those who are (as I previously was) unaware of Maya Angelou's full story: this autobiographical, very poetic book does cover her rape at age eight, and, similarly horrid though apparently not deserving of as much outrage, a lifetime's worth of oppression and out-and-out hatred as a Black girl growing up in the segregated South.

This is a book that must be read.

We can cloister ourselves in our privilege and pretend like these things don't happen, but if we really want to 'protect the children!!11!', then we should not leave them in the same ignorance that Maya had as a child. We can't sweep the hatred of man under the rug and pretend bad things don't happen to good people. We can't censor someone's gripping life story because it threatens our sensibilities.

I did have a hard time with the molestation and rape portions. A very hard time. I had to step away from the book for several days before I could face it again. I understand the luxury and privilege that I have in being able to do just that.

I think most of us Americans, as children/teens, learn about segregation and the racial hatred and crimes against Blacks. We learn at a distance, a censored history, the cliff-notes that even our own history texts deem the highlights. Words on the page of an age long ago and far away. Maya Angelou's story is, of course, words on the page – and it is not. Her amazing gift of poetry rings off of every page, even the uncomfortable ones. She breathes life into each sentence, and we experience each and every moment with her. Her skill with words is truly unrivaled. I learned so much more from her book than I did from years of history classes.

The tale is not all dark. There is happiness, love, understanding, and through it all, that thread of resilience that made Angelou great. She and her brother received an excellent education despite attending a school built of white-folk-hand-me-downs. Her brilliance shines through each and every page. It is masterfully written. No, I didn't always like what happened in the story, but it's true and wonderfully told. I have no complaints, except that people were ever (and sometimes still are) treated that way. I'm not judging her experiences in this review, but the books itself and the way she shared those experiences. 5 stars and my continued admiration.