Big Girls Don’t Cry by Connie Briscoe

I first learned about Connie Briscoe (she/her) when I was searching for D/deaf authors. Biscoe’s name popped up, but I quickly learned she doesn’t write D/deaf characters. Briscoe herself identifies as “hearing impaired.” But when I saw her name on the Goodwill bookshelf, I grabbed a copy of Big Girls Don’t Cry. The other aspect of Briscoe that I learned is she started publishing around the same time as Terry McMillan, and thus both were acknowledged as new voices for Black women in the U.S.

Big Girls Don’t Cry begins in 1963. Naomi, a twelve-year-old Black girl, loves reading Nancy Drew, though her mother is forcing her and her brother, Joshua, to take piano lessons to become well-rounded people. Naomi and Joshua’s parents are hard-working people living in D.C. They describe how when they were young adults, the only options in America for them were teaching or a government job, but they recognize that their children will have more opportunities.

As they drive to the first piano lesson, the mother gets lost and winds up in Virginia, where a couple of white boys call them a racial slur. Later, when the family attempts to eat at a Chinese restaurant, the owner tells them they can’t come in because they will make the white patrons uncomfortable. Joshua, seeing a pattern, becomes active in protesting with his friend Drew.

Meanwhile, Naomi mostly focuses on learning about boys and sex. She’s a virgin, but she’s got lots of questions for her mother after she hears rumors around school, like kissing can make you pregnant, or you can’t get pregnant the first time you have sex. In a couple of years, Naomi becomes sexually active and starts asking her brother more questions, instead of her mother. He’s easier to talk to and closer to her age. The siblings are close, which is why is slams Naomi so hard when she learns Joshua, his friend Drew, and two others were in a car accident and Joshua died. They were on their way to a civil rights protest in Chicago.

The novel continues through Naomi’s college years and eventually into the 1980’s when she’s trying to get a career going. Through it all, she oscillates on how to best protest against racism. Is it picketing with signs? Is it working twice as hard as white people? Is it starting Black-owned businesses, which is what Joshua and Drew encouraged her to do? I was fascinated by this question: how does a Black woman most effectively protest to earn equal footing with white men?

However, I found the sexual aspect of the book distracting. Naomi was constantly dating and almost engaging men who didn’t cherish her dreams and ambitions, would make claims about not being able to go too long without sexual satisfaction, and cheating on her repeatedly because she kept forgiving them. There are at least six major relationships Naomi navigates, which means readers have to sit there and sigh and shake their heads, because in sexual matters and relationships, Naomi doesn’t learn. She sees the red flags: men telling her how to dress and where to live, her girlfriends warning her that another woman was with Naomi’s boyfriend in his room, men telling her not to start a business or not to get her MBA, etc. I suppose I am not the kind of friend who wants to hang out with a person who keeps making the same ignorant choices for decades and then looking for sympathy. I mean, I’ve had friends like that, and they’re exhusting.

However, I suspect the boyfriends played a smaller role in Naomi’s life than the novel suggests because the author isn’t sharing much about Naomi’s studies, classes, clubs, friends, etc. There really are other things she’s doing. But, it is what Briscoe focuses on.

An interesting, frustrating book that I didn’t hate but wouldn’t read again.


      • I gave myself license this year to buy as many book as I like and I have not. 😛 I’ve picked up a couple super cheap ones and that’s it. Now, I have to not buy any in case someone gets them for me for Christmas.


        • That’s the other problem! Books at Christmas, lol. I haven’t received a Christmas book in a while, and I think that’s because I’ve been blabbing to all family and friends about how much I’m trying to get rid of some of my TBR. It has to fit in the dang tote I designated just for physical TBR books! But see, when I buy books, it’s not a few books, it’s like 20 used books that I cannot leave at the store because they will be lonely or sold to an evil book burning weirdo if I don’t take them home.

          Liked by 1 person

  1. I had a friend for several years who kept making the same baffling mistakes with men and then complaining about it. It became very wearing in the end and I was glad when she moved away! (Especially since she only ever talked about men – I sometimes joke, perhaps unkindly, that it’s the only friendship I’ve ever had that didn’t pass the Bechdel test). I don’t think I would necessarily want to read a whole book about it!


    • Yes! I’ve definitely had friends in the past who had no personality beyond who they were dating and why and what the problems were. When I broke it off with these kinds of friends, they were always sad and confused. And now I would say, “Okay, tell me ONE THING you know about me. JUST ONE.” And they wouldn’t be able to answer because they only talk about themselves.

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  2. Naomi’s the same age as me. Though I’m sure there the similarities end – white guy, Black woman; no consequences for me if/when I stop protesting. I think writing is the best form of protest and I think working hard the worst – no matter how much success a Black woman achieves there will always be upper class whites who will find a way to look down on her. Though on the other hand there are so many stories about Black women working hard at menial jobs who inspire their children, which is no small achievement.


    • Now I’m wondering if you would enjoy and relate to this novel more because you were going through similar experiences as a result of the current culture.

      “Writing is the best form of protest.” I’m going to be thinking about that one for a while. I am pretty harsh about marching and protesting physically, because I really do not see changes as a result.


  3. Turns out I read this in July 1998 but I haven’t gone to my box of reading journals to find out what I thought of it (sorry!). I did indeed read her alongside McMillan at the time!


    • Tell me about your book club. Who picked, and how did you decide that? I was in a book club once that had lost the leader ages ago, so it felt rather adrift. I tried to become the leader, but I wasn’t sure if others would agree with that, and it fell apart. But there was a point when everyone was voting for YA books, and that’s about when I bounced. I am happy to read a mix of books, even ones I am unlikely to enjoy, but I’m not okay with a book club being all the same thing.


      • It was a mix of friends and friendly acquaintances. People drifted in and out over the years I was in it. We had a real variety of books. Everyone took turns picking. It was fun. But I got tired eventually of having one of my monthly books be something I didn’t necessarily want to read, and I wanted more freedom on my Sundays. (We met once a month on a Sunday.)


        • Hahahaha, that sounds so Laila. Did you make the argument that you are a mood reader? 😂

          All kidding aside, some book clubs meet to talk about what they’ve been reading, which almost sounds like in-person book blogging to me.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Too bad, this sounds like it could have been a lot more interesting. I find it frustrating to read about a character making bad decisions over and over again and seemingly not learning.


  5. Hmm sounds like an interesting read that could do with a few tweaks. That cover – it’s giving me, late 80s early nineties vibe. Like, it could also be a piece of art that hung on an office wall in that time period too LOL. Or a textbook cover!


    • Holy crap, you’re right about the textbook cover! I could see this image on the front of a book about diversity, equity, and inclusion. It is a mass market paperback, and those ALWAYS scream 80’s to me, despite the fact that they are still made.

      Liked by 1 person

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