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Knowing when to keep quiet is a strategy that can save your life, as Toswiah Green discovers when her family is forced to enter the Federal Witness Protection Program in Jacqueline Woodson's 2002 novel hush. The Greens reinvent themselves as the Thomases, leaving behind their old lives and identities, and Toswiah Green—a.k.a. Evie Thomas—narrates this strange experience.
hush was a National Book Award Finalist and an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults. Not too shabby, right? Plus, Woodson's other books are also highly acclaimed: She's won the Newbery Honor Medal and the Coretta Scott King Honor three times each, the Coretta Scott King Award once, and the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement.
hush, like many of Woodson's books, deals with the experience of African American children and young adults, taking a serious look at what race means in modern society. Because it was published in 2002, some of the references are a bit dated—ever heard the dial tone from a landline?—but the overall theme of racial justice remains, unfortunately, current. hush is a chance to explore the impact of racism on one family, and as Toswiah tells us time and again, the road they're forced to walk isn't easy.
We really hope you've never had to enter the Witness Protection Program and leave behind almost everything you've ever known, although if you have, you'll probably be able to relate to hush. For the rest of you Shmoopers out there, though, worry not: You don't need to have gone through all that to relate to this book, since hush is really all about identity. Where does it come from? What does it mean when something about your identity changes? What makes you you?
Toswiah is forced to take a pretty hard look at her life and who she is thanks to the extraordinary circumstances she finds herself in. But the thing is, discovering who you are is a big part of adolescence—so she was going to have to do some of this digging eventually anyway. And she's not alone in doing so, either: Her older sister and both of her parents are majorly thrown by leaving their lives behind, and everyone has to examine who they really are.
Identity takes on some pretty strong markers in high school. Are you a jock? A nerd? A prep? Some people are secure in their identities (like Toswiah sister, who's a cheerleader) and some are longing to reinvent themselves—but either way, moving to a new school and trying to find an identity in a new place is tough, and we bet that's something a lot of you Shmoopers can relate to. Whether you get to keep your name and tell anyone where you actually come from or not.
More Words from Woodson
This is Jacqueline Woodson's official author site.
The Scholastic website has vital stats like reading level, interest level, lexile level (a.k.a. stuff teachers care about), and more about the author.
Things We Hope We Never Need to Know
The official website of the U.S. Marshals Federal Witness Security Program. Surprise: There's not a lot of public information.
In Case You Need to Write a Paper…
Jacqueline Woodson designed this research guide for students looking for information on her and her work. Lots of articles are linked here.
What's Witness Protection Really Like?
This is a CNN article on witness protection. Warning: It may just leave you with more questions.
Woodson Talks to Book Lovers
Jacqueline Woodson speaks at the 2009 National Book Festival.
AdLit (Adolescent Lit)'s Meet the Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Jacqueline Woodson discusses the importance of sharing history through books.
Woodson Talks to Teachers and Librarians
Woodson's Keynote Address for the School Library Journal Day of Dialogue 2014. Guess what? She's a mom, too.
This Should Help If You Need to Give a Speech
Jacqueline Woodson pronounces names from her books for readers.
In Case You'd Rather Listen
Here's a link to rent the audiobook.
In Case You Need to Recognize the Author
Here's a picture of Jacqueline Woodson.