By Natalie Lloyd
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is the phenomenal memoir of Maya Angelou, and her experiences growing up as a black woman in the South. This book is incredibly raw and painful to read at times, as the books focuses on how Maya recovers after she is raped as a seven-year old by her mother’s boyfriend. Her life is full of many hardships, yet she manages to succeed despite all of it.
The story starts in 1930s Stamps, Arkansas in the Deep South. Her town is so segregated that she almost never even sees white people, except for when they come to her grandmothers store. There are many awfully racist people the come to shop at the store, and thus, from a very young age Maya is witness and subject to a lot of racism. Maya is a very bright child who loves reading and books and thus, is keenly aware of the discrimination she faces. She is also aware of the differences in her family; she was abandoned by her mother and lives with her grandmother while having no clue where her father is. However, she does have a brother she is extremely close to, especially when they are younger. When Maya is around seven, her mother comes to get her and her brother, Bailey and takes them to live with her in St. Louis. It is there where Maya is raped by her mother’s boyfriend. Her mother finds out almost instantly, and the rapist goes on trial, but Maya is left with incredibly painful and humiliating feelings inside. She is changed a lot, and when she goes back to living in Arkansas, she almost stops talking completely. The story follows her healing process as she learns how to love herself and truly be free within herself.
As the story progresses, she gets sent to live with her mother again when she is in high school, but this time they live in San Fransisco. Here she is able to go to a much better high school, where she learns a lot and is even more interested in books, although she is not always interested in school. She is able to have much more freedom here, and in turn gets into a lot more trouble. Maya has many strong beliefs and doesn’t let anybody tell her anything different. She manages to get a job as a streetcar driver, despite the fact that they do not accept black people. She keeps overcoming challenges, navigating life with her Mother and rebellious brother who eventually leaves home, and getting that job really shows how much strength and perseverance she has. At the end of the book, at age sixteen, she has a baby. She is so scared she will accidentally hurt him at first, but her instincts kick in and she is totally fine. This really marks a monumental point in her life, because she finally feels at home in her body again and is able to raise a child that is just absolutely hers.
I thought this book was absolutely fantastic. It definitely opened my eyes to some viewpoints I had never considered before. It is a book that I think everyone should read to gain an understanding of how difficult it is to live as a black women. Not only does it open your eyes to the intense discrimination faced, but also to just different cultures and ideas even from town to town or region to region. It is an incredibly inspirational read to show how Maya takes charge of her own life and will not let anyone imprison her or make her fit into society’s expectations. Another amazing part of this book is the eloquent writing that really puts you into Maya’s shoes and describes things so poignantly that it gives a real sense of what everything in Maya’s life is like.I would warn that this book should be read with caution, as it is definitely for mature audiences and there are some scenes that are hard to get through. If you are a fan of memoirs and historical books, and even if you aren’t, this is an amazing book for anyone to read.