Brown Girl Dreaming is an autobiographical story of author Jacqueline Woodson's childhood, written in verse.
Jacqueline is born in Columbus, Ohio in 1963 to Jack Woodson and Mary Ann Irby. She has an older brother named Hope and an older sister named Odella. Only a year after Jacqueline's birth, her parents separate and she and her siblings move to their mother's parents' home in Greenville, South Carolina. Though slavery ended a century before and the Civil Rights Movement has already begun, racism and discrimination are rampant in the American South. The children are left with their grandparents for long stretches of time as their mother explores New York, and they are forced to become Jehovah's Witnesses like their grandmother.
Eventually, Jacqueline's mother finds a place for the family to live in New York, and she moves the children there. Besides adapting to life in New York, where Jacqueline and her siblings feel out of place due to their Southern accents and upbringing, they also must adapt to having another sibling, a baby named Roman. The older children return to South Carolina in the summers, while Roman must spend much of his early life in the hospital due to ingesting lead paint. Jacqueline learns to love New York and greatly enjoys attending school and spending time with her best friend, a Puerto Rican girl named Maria.
Parts IV and V are the darkest in tone. Jacqueline's grandfather, who she is very close to, has grown sick over the course of the book and dies at the end of Part IV. Furthermore, Jacqueline's Uncle Robert is put in prison and greatly changes as a person. However, during these chapters Jacqueline also learns more about the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Panthers, and feminism. By the end of the book, Jacqueline embraces the complexity of the world and comes to see herself as a writer and an activist.