Book Review: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou 

It seems that lately, any book that discusses the ‘real life ugliness’ that too many people face on a daily basis, hits someone’s ‘Banned Books’ list. I guess the idea here is that as long as we continue to ignore and deny the harm people do to one another, we can collectively pretend it doesn’t exist at all. This attitude in and of itself has done and continues to do immeasurable harm to children and adults alike. We have no hope of changing the world if we cannot acknowledge that the world needs changing which means getting uncomfortable and facing the problems eyes-wide-open.   

Maya Angelou’s, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is one of these books…it’s been placed on ‘Banned’ lists for discussing issues like sexual violence, racism, depression, sexual orientation, and poverty in America. The great thing about this book is that it discusses sexual violence, racism, depression, sexual orientation, and poverty in America in a way that young readers can relate to and absorb. Angelou tells her story from the perspective of a growing child encountering these issues from a child’s point-of-view with misunderstandings, misconceptions, and misinformation but still trying her best to make sense of it all. While this journey is particular to Angelou in some ways, her path and missteps mirror the childhoods of many American kids facing these difficult social issues as they grow up and come of age in the 21st century. 

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is beautifully written and Angelou evokes heartache, despair, love, friendship, and joy from her reader. The ‘coming of age’ story may not be new to the literary world, but Angelou harnesses the power of her story to shed light on various social and personal issues that our children face on a daily basis whether we are willing to admit they exist or not. 

Perhaps the saddest but most poignant aspect of this book is that Angelou grew up in 1930’s America and children growing up in America nearly 100 years later still face many of the same social issues. If nothing else, this clearly demonstrates that the narrative of ‘social progress’ that  many Americans are willing to accept is nothing more than a fallacy utilized to maintain the status-quo.  

Read on my friends!

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