This review contains quotes from the book
Wow. I just really don’t know what to say about this book without feeling my words would do this book some lack of literary justice. Jacqueline Woodson‘s latest adult novel Another Brooklyn is rousing; it is single-handedly the best retelling of the black experience I’ve ever read.
Every page reads like a piece of poetry soaked in so much sincerity, so much truthfulness. I could not entirely bring myself to say many bad things about his book other than I wish it had not ended at all. Perhaps that’s selfish of me, but I couldn’t put this book down for anything: I took it with me to the laundromat of all places the other day and devoured at least one-third of this brilliant novel in under an hour. Woodson’s eye — her pivot to memory and remembrance — is as intentionally meticulous as it is brutal.
If I can make a confession: I didn’t enjoy reading a lot of African-American literature. The only memory I have of my inauguration to the genre manifests from 11th grade; we had been assigned to read Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. Our professor Kathy Carruth — an ambitious and electrifying Black woman — pulled no punches when it came to drawing back the curtains on America’s ugly historical treatment of Black people; but Mrs. Carruth was just as diligent in introducing us to the Black writers that worked sleeplessly to remedy that pain. And for that, I really, really am indebted to her.
However, my interests in African-American literature had been stomped by the time I reached college; it seemed as if the stories blended into one another. There was always an underlying theme of pain, or a reminder of servitude that really agitated me. So I stopped reading it all together. Little did I know, at that time, and maybe for a great while even before, I’d been missing the entire point. With pain, there’s promise — Woodson’s book is evidence of just that.
In short, Another Brooklyn is about a black woman named August whose memories are triggered after she spots a familiar face on the train ride home (or subway, I cannot be entirely sure). The woman whom August encounters brings back very vivid memories of her childhood living in Brooklyn with her brother having been taken from their afflicted mother by their father; those same memories spark images of “the girls” August recalls she both hated and loved.
The entire book is a poem, an ode to every little black girl’s experience; the lack of mothership is also very prevalent in this tale, as August often prays for the return of her own. This is certainly a coming-of-age tale, one about innocence but also concerns itself with race relations, sexuality and friendship, all of which August and her girls (Gigi, Angela and Sylvia) try so very hard to understand. That is both the beauty and brutality of innocence: not knowing how temporary it is.
I wish I could tell you more about this book without giving too much away. But because I cannot control myself, I have to at least include a few passages — THAT’S TOTALLY OKAY, RIGHT?! DONT ANSWER THAT BECAUSE IM DOING IT ANYWAY!!! YOU READY!?!
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 and sharper blades. Any strung-out soldier or ashy-kneed, hungry child could have told us this.
On innocence/growing up:
The pastor at my church comes up behind me sometimes when I’m singing in choir, Gigi said. I can feel his thing on my back. Don’t sing in your church choir. Or if you sing in it, go to another place while you sing. And she whispered how she was the queen of other places. Close my eyes and boom, I’m gone. I learned it from my mother, she told us. So many days you look in that woman’s eyes and she isn’t even there!
But when she is, Gigi said, she reminds me to go to Hollywood. Tells me I’ll be safe there.
We didn’t know to ask. Safe from what? Safe from whom? We thought we knew.
Okay, I’ll stop there… There are just too many poetic lines I could mention — you’d be better off blessing yourself with a physical copy of Another Brooklyn rather than having me spoil it for you. I mean, man, this book really had an impact on me because even as a Black man I could totally resonate with a lot of the feelings and struggles the girls go through in this book: learning about (other) boys who may or may not have been like me; making friends and making enemies in the same breath; and the unbearable weight of navigating this world blindfolded. Ugh, and the way it ends is a total full circle chef-d’œuvre.
Woodson’s characters are alive and exist in your community as well as my own. These children, these people, are far from fiction, you hear me?! These kids were my neighbors; they were lost boys and girls who grew up just around the corner from where I once lived as a child.
This is the book of every neighborhood.