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Big Girls Don’t Cry is a novel by American author Connie Briscoe, first published in 1996. It was one of her earlier novels, the second I believe, and she has written several since. She is not an author we hear much about on this side of the Atlantic, and despite having discovered Big Girls Don’t Cry in the late 1990s, I’ve never sought out any of her other novels.
Big Girls Don’t Cry is the story of Naomi Jefferson, a black American born in the 1950s, to a middle class family. The novel opens in 1963, when Naomi begins to discover the ugliness of racism, and takes us through to the present day (1990s). In the sixties she discovers boys, friendship and racism, and suffers tragedy; in the seventies she goes to college and becomes disillusioned with life and politics; and in the eighties she decides a career is what she needs, but its always the big white man who wins. She loves and loses, she learns all about life, and I learnt with her.
I think the first time I read this book was in 1997, from the local library. I started taking it out regularly – as a teenager, I knew what this girl was going through even though our backgrounds were totally different, and the lessons she learnt taught me about life and how things don’t always go as planned. A few years later I came across a copy of the book in an outlet store for £3, and snapped it up. My parents asked me what I was doing buying a book I had read so often, but I simply loved it and I loved Naomi.
Naomi Jefferson is a typical 12 year old when the book begins. Starting to notice boys, thinking about clothes and hair, and studying hard. But soon she discovers that outside her nice middle class black community there is an uglier side to life, racism from white people and even within the larger black community – “light” skin is cooler, and the families richer. She is a well written, believable character. She makes mistakes, she makes bad judgements, she worries over whether a guy likes her and whether she has the right clothes. In other words, she’s like every other girl the world over – and age doesn’t change her. She has a good career, but she still worries, and she still gets things wrong.
The book is written in the third person, but everything is from Naomi’s point of view. We learn how she feels, what she is thinking, and what new experiences do to her. Her perspective is refreshingly honest. The first time she has sex, it isn’t mind blowing but a little uncomfortable and confusing. This is the perspective of a real teenager. With regards to all of life’s lessons, she learns as time goes on, but she’s still learning right through to the end of the book, and this is true to life.
Briscoe’s writing is clear and intelligent. The dialogue is peppered with colloquialisms from black America, throughout the time periods it covers. This is never intrusive to the story however, and is always easy to understand – using this language makes it all the more realistic. Words such as “fly” instead of cool were what these kids used in the Sixties.
I really do love this book, and I come back to it time and time again. I wouldn’t class it as chick lit, it is much more intelligent than that. It really is a book for all ages, but I think it is probably more appealing to women than men. I read it as a young teenager, and I’ve reread it several times in my twenties, and I expect to continue rereading it through my life as I try to learn from it! It’s available from Amazon marketplace, and honestly, it is worth buying. It’s a book you will come back to over and over again.