2nd Person POV in Junot Diaz’s “How to Date a Brown Girl”

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I’ll admit it now; I have a “thing” for the 2nd person. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I’m always rooting for the underdog, or (probably closer to the truth) I enjoy reading what most other people avoid. Maybe I really am a contrarian at heart. It wouldn’t be a stretch. Let’s pretend it’s the former. 2nd person is arguably the grotesque sideshow of the POV world. Most craft books spit out a form paragraph that goes something like this: 2nd person. Don’t bother. I’m paraphrasing.

Not only is Junot Diaz’ short story, “How to Date a Brown Girl” written in 2nd person, but it takes the sideshow one step further. Diaz writes his story in the 2nd person directive, a “how-to” manual that should (according to the title) give us some insight on how to date a “brown girl.”

When I began reading this a few things immediately came to mind. First, would I be too “aware” of the point of view throughout the story? Would it distract me from the “heart” of the piece? More often than not, the 2nd person serves as a constant reminder that the author has chosen (for whatever reason) to use the “you” narrator instead of the “I” narrator. Some of my E210 students suggested that they “didn’t like being told what to do.” But, is the 2nd person narrative really so “bossy?” In most cases, no, unless you’re reading a Choose Your Own Adventure novel.

As I discussed in my annotation on Dennis LeHane’s “Until Gwen,” the second person narrative seems to be a method of drawing the reader in to the narrator’s mind, closer than the 1st person narrative in that the reader isn’t just reading about someone else’s life, but they (as implied by the “you”) are actually along for the ride. Imagine standing next to Connie in Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” Arnold Friend tells YOU not to pick up that phone, tells YOU to come to the screen door and let him inside.

Diaz’ “Brown Girl,” has the potential to draw you in, to allow you more intimacy (and sympathy) for the main character. Even with the directive voice, I didn’t feel “bossed around.”

Wait and after an hour go out to your corner. The neighborhood is full of traffic. Give one of your boys a shout and when he says, Are you still waiting on that bitch? say, Hell yeah (2).

The story (potentially) reads closer to a do-it-yourself book on building birdhouses, only the birdhouse is a small apartment you share with your family and the bird you’re bringing over for dinner is someone you’ll try to “put the moves on.”

But, “How to Date a Brown Girl” is more than a how-to book on dating girls of various races, it’s an in-your-face narrative about a young boy struggling with his social situation (shit-covered toilet paper in a basket in the bathroom and the “government cheese” in the fridge) and what this social situation does to his adolescent masculinity.

In short, it’s brilliant in terms of voice (and craft). We don’t feel sympathy for our young narrator, even when we’re sure he’ll get shot down before he lands that kiss. We see this narrator for what he is—a reluctant streetwise Romeo who has learned at a young age how to protect the fragility he hides within, a fragility that shines through from between the confident 2nd person lines.

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