Jacqueline Woodson won the 2014 National Book Award for her young adult novel Brown Girl Dreaming and has been a finalist for several others. Since Woodson’s new novel for adults Another Brooklyn was recently long-listed for the 2016 National Book Award, I thought I’d share with you just what this book is about and why you need to pick it up.
Another Brooklyn is one of those books that you remember in flashes—quick images that come together to form a feeling that sticks with you. In fact, that’s how Jacqueline Woodson constructs this novel about a black girl growing up in 1970s Brooklyn: through a series of memories.
Like stills from a roll of film, Woodson tells the story of August, both as the young girl who has moved to New York with her father and brother, as well as the anthropologist she later becomes, reflecting on her life. Jumping back and forth in time, August recalls the days on the streets of Brooklyn with her friends Sylvia, Angela, and Gigi. The four of them are rarely seen apart, each girl with her own dreams and desires, her own struggle of pain and loss.
The story revolves around the group growing up together, trying to navigate a world where drug addicts sleep in the hallways of their apartments and men try to grab them on the street. The four girls walk down the sidewalk with their arms linked together, not just as a show of friendship, but as a way of arming themselves against the threats around them. The girls pretend they are living in a glamorous Brooklyn, one that will make them famous and give them better futures than their parents. But they know there is another, more dangerous Brooklyn where they will need each other to survive.
“We had blades inside our kneesocks and were growing our nails long. We were learning to walk the Brooklyn streets as though we had always belonged to them—our voices loud, our laughter even louder. But Brooklyn had longer nails and sharper blades. Any strung-out soldier or ashy-kneed, hungry child could have told us this.”
Set against the backdrop of the New York blackout and news of the Biafran War, Another Brooklyn centers around the idea that a memory of an experience is just as important, if not more so, than the actual event.
I absolutely loved this novel and the almost stream-of-consciousness writing style. Woodson creates a vivid image of what it was like for a young girl of color growing up in a city that practically demanded her loss of innocence. She really makes you feel the fear and the reality of these girls’ worlds. I felt a love for each character, and Woodson has expertly weaved their stories together to tell the bigger story of what was happening during that time. This book is a quick, poetic read that I would recommend for anyone.