Monday, December 26, 2016
Book Review: "Another Brooklyn" by Jacqueline Woodson
"Sylvia, Angela, Gigi, August. We were four girls together, amazingly beautiful and terrifyingly alone."
Another Brooklyn is a memory poem of sorts, a lamentation on lost youth and the intensity of adolescent friendships which burn with an intense heat for a period of time, only to leave behind the ashes of longing, anger, and regret.
Seeing an old friend on the subway brings August face-to-face with her memories. She remembers growing up in Brooklyn in the 1970s after her father brought her and her younger brother from their home in Tennessee. She remembers longing for their troubled mother to join them, remembers how sheltered her father kept them for a while, not allowing them to leave their small apartment. But most of all she remembers watching Sylvia, Angela, and Gigi as they walked down the street, jumped rope, and appeared inseparable, possessing a bond August so desperately desired.
"I was eleven, the idea of two identical digits in my age still new and spectacular and heartbreaking. The girls must have felt this. They must have known. Where had ten, nine, eight, and seven gone? And now the four of us were standing together for the first time. It must have felt like a beginning, an anchoring."
August recalls how the four girls came from disparate ethnic and economic backgrounds yet dealt with the same thingsfear of the junkies and the perverts and the creeps who stared at them, wanting them as they matured; wanting to be desired by their boyfriends yet fearful of giving them what they really wanted; and wanting desperately for their dreams to come true, whether they were of stardom, of money, or of a family unit made whole once more. She recounts the way her father struggled, only to find peace as a Muslim, a peace he tried to impart to his children.
The book reflects the changing demographics of the Brooklyn August remembers, one which saw the white people fleeing for Manhattan and the suburbs as increasing numbers of people from all over the world, people with less and less money, moved in. The book also reflects the veterans returning from Vietnam with drug addiction, the murders of young African-American girls all over Brooklyn, the sighs of relief after the Son of Sam held New York in his grip.
Jacqueline Woodson's prose is absolutely luminous in this book. I would read and re-read sentences and paragraphs, and find myself in awe of the language and imagery she used. She let me loose both in the story and in my own memories, as I remembered those friendships, that longing to fit in and be part of a group, to feel both powerful and helpless simultaneously.
This is a short book that has a lot of weight and depth to it. I haven't ever read anything Woodson has written, but she truly dazzled me. I know I'm a little late to the party on this one, but I'm glad I showed up, because this is a book I would regret having missed.