Jacob's Reviews > The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963

The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
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's review
Feb 13, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: yong-adoolt
Read in February, 2011

It's 1963 in Michigan, and while things with Kenny Watson's life and family ain't perfect, they're pretty good. In order to give them some perspective on just how good their life is, Kenny's parents take their kids down to the southern states to visit grandma and to witness the difficult circumstances of segregation and racism that exist down there. What is there to appreciate about being a black family in the sixties? Kenny is going to find out.

This book is brilliant for many things, but the most obvious one is Christopher Paul Curtis's narration. He knows the mind of kids perfectly---the innocence, the cruelty, the clarity, the selfishness and the playfulness. Kids are terrible, wonderful, confused little creatures in this story, and a beautiful reality that Curtis is able to show is how adults are just larger versions of that: they're acclimated to the ambiguity of life, but they're still funny about stuff, still confused and worried and gushing. The humility of childhood is, I think, one of the answers to life's questions that Curtis might be offering here.

Curtis seems like the kind of writer whose stories could be told at a storyteller's convention; the book is very colloquial and "in love with it's own voice", to borrow a phrase from a professor. A lot of the book is episodic, setting up the mood of life in Michigan and the characters of the family members in order to give the contrast of their Alabama visit the proper weight. Because of its episodic nature, the book feels very whimsical and fun. Because the characters are so carefully built, emotions run high, and we feel pain when we are supposed to. I don't know how to rephrase that last clause to sound less weird, so, la la.

The point is, wonderful book. Kenny mentions he's seen lots of "nekkid women" in magazines that his brother owns, which might bother some readers.

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