Study Guide

hush Fear

By Jacqueline Woodson

Fear

If I was brave, I would look full at them and say I'd like a little taste of that. Then I'd take that bottle and put it straight up to my lips, take a long, hard drink of that stuff and wipe my mouth with the back of my hand. If I was brave, I'd slide one of my hands past the waistband of my pants and just stand with it there like they do—holding on to whatever. (1.20)

Really, Toswiah/Evie? Of all the things you'd do if you were brave, you'd act like the dudes on the street corner? Seems like an odd choice.

If I was brave, I could belong somewhere.

My name's Toswiah, I'd say. Toswiah Green. Have you ever heard of me?

But my name is Evie now. And I've never been brave. (1.21-23)

Toswiah/Evie thinks of bravery as a prerequisite for belonging. Perhaps what she really means is that you can only fit in when you are able to be yourself—and being yourself requires the bravery of being vulnerable.

If Green says a word, a raspy voice said, we'll kill him. I held the phone away from my ear, then closer again, pressing it hard against my head. The voice went away then. A minute later, there was a dial tone. Then the loud beep and another voice telling me that the phone was off the hook. I couldn't hang up, though. Even though the beep pounded into my ear and my hand hurt from holding the phone too tight, I couldn't hang up.

When Mama came into the living room a little while later, she found me standing there, my face twisted up in horror, tears streaming down my nose and into my mouth. (5.2-3)

We admit we probably wouldn't be feeling too brave ourselves if death threats from the cops started coming to our house. No shame, Toswiah/Evie. No shame.

The second time the raspy voice called, my mother snatched the phone out of the wall and screamed. I was sitting at the kitchen table eating a jelly sandwich. (5.4)

Ack, go away, raspy voice—you just don't go with jelly sandwiches. Ugh. The juxtaposition of the normal/abnormal makes this pretty terrifying.

"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!"

I stared down at my hands, trying to imagine Mama getting a call that I'd been killed. I saw my own house collapsing in on itself, the roof and walls crumbling. (5.39-40)

As if this situation weren't already scary enough, the Greens start imagining that it's much worse: That one of them had been killed instead. Is that why Daddy testifies?

When I ran downstairs, Mama was slumped against the dining room wall, her head in her hands. Daddy was beside her, his arms around her shoulders. Cameron stood in the corner of the dining room, hugging herself hard. Glass covered the kitchen table and floor. The bullet holes were like small black caves against the white kitchen wall. I stared at them without blinking. I was not afraid. Some part of us that had been the same way forever was gone. The holes in the walls proved it. (6.11)

It's interesting that in this truly terrifying moment, when there is an actual threat, Toswiah/Evie doesn't feel afraid. Why do you think that is?

The men were quiet, tall. One black. One white. When Cameron asked where the next place was, the men said it was too unsafe to tell us. We climbed into a van with blacked-out windows. (8.9)

Um… so scary. Climbing into a van with blacked-out windows is generally not a safe thing to do, and it's scary even when it's driven by the good guys—the good guys who can't tell you where you're going because it's too dangerous.

I wanted to be brave. (9.4)

Is Toswiah/Evie ever brave? Why does she think she's not?

I want to tell you where we are now, but I'm afraid. (11.1)

Toswiah/Evie is addressing the reader here. She can't tell us where she is for any number of reasons—someone who wants to hurt her family might find out, or even worse, we might not be trustworthy ourselves. Poor kid.

Tonight I need to write. "Afraid" is this hollowed-out place that sometimes feels bigger than I am. Most days my fear is as long as my shadow, as big as my family's closet of skeletons. (12.9)

Toswiah/Evie describes living with constant, chronic fear. Why is it with her all the time? How is writing going to help?

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