Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Book Reviews by Ava Tanis

 on: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is Part 1 of the biography of renowned activist, poet, and dancer: Maya Angelou. Beautifully raw and cuttingly honest, the first novel of the author’s seven-book series tells the story of Angelou’s life from childhood through her 16th year. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is written incredibly intricately and includes even the most obscure details of Angelou’s life as a Black child, woman, and person living in the South before and during World War II. It is important to mention, however, that the story includes potentially offensive language, graphic imagery of racism, and description of sexual assault, which can be triggering for some. If rather than being triggered by such discussions, you are merely made uncomfortable, this read is definitely worth challenging your comfort zone for. 

In an increasingly racially aware America, it is vital that people gain insight into the stories of Black people. Angelou’s is especially heart wrenching, evidencing just how cruel and unforgiving life was and can be as an African American. In one instance when she was just a child, and in excruciating pain as a result of two cavities, a white dentist refused to treat her because of a “policy” against treating people of color. On top of the deep rooted and hateful racism she experienced, Angelou was a victim of sexual assault—a crime which, much more than it does now, caused survivors to be regarded as “unpure” or “used,” despite their having been given no choice in the matter. 

The story is not all darkness and hardship, though. While making sure to shed light on her trauma and the “humorless puzzle of inequality and hate” (Angelou 193) she faced, Angelou balances bits of emotional depth and lightheartedness, even comedy, in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The subtle funny moments scattered throughout make her feel much less like a historical figure and more like a person. They add an element of relatability to the story which allows you, by the end, to be fully invested in her life’s story. 

Biographies—and nonfiction works, for that matter—can be intimidating to readers (especially teenagers), probably because they don’t off the bat sound incredibly dramatic or action-packed. To be fair, some biographies are boring and nonfiction books can be too, but Maya Angelou has a story that is not only interesting, but inspiring and eye opening. For anyone looking to dip their toes into the world of nonfiction, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is an absolute must read. For anyone and everyone, looking to dip their toes into anything or not, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is an absolute must read. 

This story is chock full of strong, thoughtful, and artfully worded pieces of food for thought. To conclude; here is one that is especially poignant and relevant to teens from Chapter 34: 

To be left alone on the tightrope of youthful unknowing is to experience the excruciating beauty of full freedom and the threat of eternal indecision. Few, if any, survive their teens. Most surrender to the vague but murderous pressure of adult conformity. It becomes easier to die and avoid conflicts than to maintain a constant battle with the superior forces of maturity. (Angelou 264)

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