Jacqueline Woodson's impressive new book is a coming-of-age novel that readers will love. The story of Toswiah Green, a young African-American girl, and her family Shirley, her loving and gentle mother, her sister Cameron and her father Jonathan, a respected cop Hush opens with the Greens leading a comfortable middle class existence in Denver. But Woodson's description of their snug happiness lets the reader know immediately that the family is in for trouble. When Jonathan witnesses the shooting of a black boy by two of his white colleagues on the police force, he refuses to stay silent, though the unwritten cop code of honor insists that he do so. He seems to put his race before this corrupt code, and he certainly puts his sense of justice before it. For that, of course, Jonathan and his family are shunned. They're also bombarded by so many death threats that they're put into a witness protection program and shunted off to a dingy city that Toswiah, the narrator, never names. Thus, their lives are ruptured in myriad ways. Jonathan, descended from two generations of law enforcement officers, is no longer a cop, and so believes he's nothing. Toswiah, whose name has been passed down through her foremothers, becomes Evie, while Cameron becomes Anna. Shell-shocked, their mother takes refuge in the Jehovah's Witnesses.
Woodson's unembellished style serves her work well; her themes racism, dislocation, honor and family resilience whisper instead of shout. She shows in a fascinating way how one black cop and his family were accepted and embraced by the larger society until that cop decided he simply couldn't play by society's rules any longer, until he decided that he wouldn't be hushed. All of the characters are sharply distinct. Devastated but tenacious, Toswiah eventually takes back her power and her identity through track and field at her new school, while Cameron's initial bitterness at having her life upended is so naked that it's refreshing. Jonathan comes across as both courageous for standing up to an unjust system and weak for his torturous self-doubt, and for letting his banishment nearly destroy him. Shirley's retreat into religion is also believably sad. Quiet and heartrending, Hush the 15th book from the Coretta Scott King Award-winning Woodson is an ultimately hopeful novel.