Study Guide

hush Family

By Jacqueline Woodson

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Mama in the kitchen, older now, too, but still glancing out the window on the nights when Daddy's late getting home. (1.31)

This is one of Toswiah/Evie's memories about Mama's anxiety about being married to a man in a dangerous profession. The whole family is waiting on something bad to happen, but what finally happens isn't what they expect.

The afternoon before the men came, we kissed my grandmother goodbye as she sat rocking slowly in her blue chair. I've never seen my grandmother cry, but that day, her chin quivered just the tiniest bit before she sniffed and said This isn't how I want you all to remember me. (2.7)

We were super sad Grandma didn't go with them, but also glad there was someone to keep Matt Cat. Grandma is made of some strong stuff, which she clearly passed down to her daughter and granddaughters.

But what I know now is this: Look at your grandmother's face. Remember the lines. Touch her cheekbones. Hold the memory of her in your fingers, in your eyes, in your mind. It might be all you get to keep. (2.9)

While most of us aren't going to be relocated by witness protection, the circle of life means that most of us lose our grandmothers at some point, so Toswiah/Evie's advice about valuing the people you love while you can rings true for us, too.

Why are you copper pennies sitting there with your mouths open? he said, laughing. You act like you've never seen me before in your life.

And we hadn't—not like that. Not standing there looking like someone who would protect us from the world ending. Someone who could, if he had to, push us behind him then stop an oncoming bullet with his hand. (4.2-3)

The girls see Daddy as an invincible Superman, which is part of why it is so traumatic for them to realize that he has weaknesses. The man who sits by a window and doesn't eat or bathe is not their amazing Daddy, and this throws them for a loop.

"Because I've got two daughters. Two. You think I brought them into this world to turn around and watch them get killed for no reason at all? That could have been Toswiah with a hat on standing there. They could have seen her and saw something threatening." Daddy raised his voice quickly then lowered it again. "That could have been my girl. It could have been my wife at the other end of that phone line being told her daughter had been shot!" (5.39)

This is what it comes down to for Daddy: Raymond Taylor was part of someone's family, and Daddy sees that it could have happened to someone in his own family. In getting justice for Raymond Taylor, he is at least partially trying to protect his own daughters.

Me and Cameron sat there, my love for Daddy blossoming into something deeper, Cameron's disgust growing fast as a weed. (7.2)

Why do you think it happens like this? Cameron/Anna hates Daddy for doing this to the family, while Toswiah/Evie is just as traumatized, but more concerned for Daddy. What does the difference in their reactions say about the two girls?

Toswiah was my grandmother's name and her mother's name, too. Whenever I told someone my name for the first time, I had to spell it out for them. Toswiah, I'd say slowly—pronouncing it Tos-wee-ah so that it didn't get mispronounced. Then I'd wait for them to go on about how unusual it was. I am tall and narrow like Cameron and Mama. We wear our hair in the same way—pulled back into a braid that stops between our shoulders. Our hair is kinky enough to stay braided without any elastics or barrettes. We all three have the same square jaw and sharp cheekbones. Striking, my mother used to say. (8.12)

Toswiah/Evie's identity with her family is bound up in her name, but it comes from other things, too. Being forced to change her name throws her for a loop, though, when it comes to feeling connected to the people she is from.

"I think I was switched at birth and separated from my real parents," she said. "They're sane and living somewhere in Colorado. They have some other children, including your real sister, who they took home by mistake, instead of me. She's a lot more like you than I am. They go on picnics. My real mother's into line dancing. It embarrasses my real sister and brother, just like it would embarrass me. Your real sister doesn't care, though. It makes my mother happy." (9.7)

Cameron/Anna makes this story up. Why do you think she wants to be part of another family? Is it just about the relocation or is there more to it?

When we fight, Mama says It's because you two are too close in age, and Anna gets that look—her eyebrows shooting up and out like a bat's wings, her lips getting thin. Fifteen months is fifteen months, she says. It makes all the difference. (11.1)

Again, Cameron/Anna is trying to pull away from her family. What's behind her need for absolute independence?

I want to see crazy close-up, though. Understand this thing that Anna says our father is. Because if it's in him, it's in me. His craziness—my inheritance. (28.4)

Okay, so Cameron/Anna is not the most sensitive person in the world when it comes to the realities of clinical depression. Why does Toswiah/Evie believe this is something she could inherit? Does she see herself as more like her father than her mother and sister?

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