I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Trigger Warning

This review will discuss triggering content explored in Maya Angelou’s book, including childhood abuse and trauma, rape, and racism.

This book is a classic for a reason. In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou does not pull a single punch. She is matter-of-fact when discussing the prejudice and racism inflicted upon her from a young age. She is fearless in her retelling of a childhood rape. Dr. Angelou writes about such heavy issues with a hand that says, “Here it is – keep looking.”

The Good

This book is fantastically written. I may be partial as a poet myself, but I loved the way Dr. Angelou wrote, as though the whole book were a work of poetry. She fit words together in such a way that I was left reeling. I think this is a difficult thing to do for a novel-length piece. However, I believe it was executed in such a way that it enhanced the book rather than overwhelming it.

I also have to laud the honesty of the piece. It takes great courage to write so openly about trauma and tragedy. Imagine as a child a white woman decides your name is too hard to pronounce and therefore calls you something else entirely. The dehumanization of that single act is something that has remained at the forefront of my mind. This book is a reminder that, though we have come a long way, we still have a long way to go.

The Bad

I’ll be honest – this book took me weeks to get through. I enjoyed the way it was written, and the story is compelling with good pacing. So what was the issue? The problem for me lay within myself, not the book. The subject matter is really heavy. Given the current climate of Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, as well as my own traumas, at times I had to put this book down and walk away, sometimes for days at a time. I needed time to process what I was reading and the emotions evoked by the author.

I also felt that the ending was a little abrupt. But, considering it’s the first in a decent-sized series, I get why she ended there. It made me want to know what happened next.

The Verdict

Overall, I’ll give this book a 4/5. The subject matter is profoundly important, so it is a must-read for everyone, in my opinion. That said, because of the weight of the subject matter, I don’t think this is a book I’ll be picking up for a second read in the near future.