Updated: Jan 20, 2019
Thanks to Penguin Random House for an advance copy of HARBOR ME for the purposes of this essay.
Disclaimer: Mild Spoilers for Harbor Me May Be Found in this Essay, Including Certain Text Excerpts
Please note: All text referenced or cited from the book is uncorrected and may contain errors or differences to the final product
When many consider the name Jacqueline Woodson, the most immediate work that comes into mind will most likely be Brown Girl Dreaming, the iconic award-winning memoir chronicling a girl in a poetic format. As many will remember from 2014, the book was heavily rooted in historical backgrounds, from its setting to even the characters and their perspectives. As a result, when attempting to analyze her latest book, 2018 release Harbor Me, it was jarring to see the blatant historical connections be wiped clean. However, upon further analyzation and pondering, the amount of historical connections and relations in her new book is actually quite staggering. Most are subtlety hidden, placed in plain sight but with a faint layer of smoke around it. And with such a complexed and enigmatic structure of historical connections, it came as no surprise that these references came from the oddly fashioned characters, from the initially awkward and shy Haley to the emotionally deprived Esteban. In the roster of characters’ moments together, it is clear that these are where most of the historical references are located. Delving into the text, one possible historical time period for the setting of Harbor Me were revealed.
Throughout the entire book, no specific year is mentioned for the time period of the story. Many other books, especially YA/children’s works, generally include the year as an additional detail. However, even with this rather strange removal, there are plenty of historical references and hints suggesting the time period. For instance, early into the book, specifically on page 50, the character Holly says, “It’s not like before when we couldn’t swim in pools or go to stores and stuff because we were black or something. It’s not segregation.” (Woodson). This quote clearly references the segregation era where blacks were treated as lower entities compared to other races. This era was only ended in 1964 with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson.