The House You Pass on the Way is a short novel--less than 100 pages--but it contains unusual depth and beauty. It's a pre-sexual love story about two fourteen-year-old cousins who don't yet know where they fit in. One girl, Staggerlee, is biracial--black and white. One girl, Trout, is adopted. Both girls are struggling with their budding sexuality. Are they gay? Are they straight? Does it matter? Woodson gracefully captures the confusion these two feel as they explore what it means to grow from girls to women.
Their intense, platonic relationship reminds me of the two girls in Woodson's other excellent novel, I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This, which I also recommend. It's a beautifully written book about ugly subjects: sexual abuse, racism, classism, abandonment. Marie is a black girl from a well educated, affluent family. Lena is a white girl from a poor family that just moved to the trashy side of town. Both girls bond over their shared motherlessness, their ability to see the good in bad situations, and their feisty, fierce loyalty and concern for each other. In another writer's hands, the characters could have easily become caricatures, stereotypes in a "social issues" young adult novel, but Woodson treats them with the dignity and respect they deserve, fleshing them out into fully realized individuals who will stick with me for a long time.