Big Girls Don’t Cry by Connie Briscoe
Born into a comfortable Washington D.C. home, Naomi Jefferson leads a life that is only occasionally marred by racism. As a teenager in the 1960s, her biggest concern centers around virginity.
But all of that changes when her older brother, Joshua who seems destined for greatness- is killed in a tragic car accident on his way to a civil rights demonstration.
Now the rift between black and white America becomes much too personal, and Naoimi embarks on a journey to honor her brother’s legacy- and to find herself.
The first time I read Big Girls Don’t Cry I was twelve and stole the dog-eared copy from my mom’s dresser. I was surprised that a book seemingly for adults, started from the perspective of a young girl.
I later realized that Briscoe was setting the scene to follow the main character for three decades as she blossomed from girl to teen, to young adult, and finally a Black woman in corporate America.
I am guilty of skirting books and movies where racism feels like a main character. It can be tiring. However, Briscoe does an impressive job of showing how much racism is an unavoidable shadow for Black people and people of color. It’s there whether you want it to take center stage in your story or not.
From colorism and kinky hair talk at slumber parties to being overlooked for promotions it’s always around. I reflected on how much we as adults deny children’s intuition and understanding about the world they’re in.
Through the character Naomi, Briscoe clearly illustrates how many of these hard life lessons are taught early on.
When Naomi and her childhood friend Debbie have a heart-to-heart about the distance growing between them it is unsurprising as a Black woman to hear Debbie feels slighted for the light skin and loose curl girls at school.
It is unsurprising again when Naomi labels teenage boys a catch based on their skin color and wavy hair texture. While it was unsurprising to read as a child, it was sad to reread as an adult considering how prevalent the conversation still is two decades later.
After a traumatic family loss sends Naomi reeling she stumbles through life looking for her place. As she grows so does her worldview and the problems she encounters. She dives headfirst into activism on campus only to find out it threatens her standing at the university.
She is forced to choose between the right thing to do and the right thing to do for her future. We follow her through college, heartbreak, and stepping into her own.
Her love life is as complicated as her professional one. Just like in real life the minute she finds her footing the rug is pulled out from under her and an unexpected bit of the past catches up with her family. This threatens to topple the already precarious balance she’s desperately trying to maintain.
The recurring theme feels like nothing is ever perfect and if it is it damn sure won’t stay that way.
This was a good read as a young person but evolved into something very different as an adult. The message of inevitable disappointment, loss, and growth resonates more as a thirty-year-old.
Some parts of the story, particularly those around work, seemed to drag. I wanted to skip ahead because it felt unnecessary to familiarize myself with the logistics of software and the character’s job. Other than that the flow was smooth.
Despite the setbacks and letdowns, Briscoe manages to inject hope and optimism throughout the story. The takeaway? When things get bad the good will inevitably follow. Following along with the character’s journey made me reflect on the evolution of my thoughts and feelings.
How much growth and understanding we are forced to do as women as the world teaches us the lessons we don’t necessarily sign up for.
Big Girls Don’t Cry is a good read for any girl but especially hits home for us big girls entering a new stage of life and learning.
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