Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Another Brooklyn

Title:  Another Brooklyn
Publication Information:  Amistad. 2016. 192 pages.
ISBN:  0062359983 / 978-0062359988

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through Edelweiss free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "For a long time, my mother wasn't dead yet."

Favorite Quote:  "This is memory."

I was introduced to Jacqueline Woodson's work with the book Brown Girl Dreaming. I read it in one sitting and absolutely loved it. With a few well chosen words, she managed to depict an entire history. So, when this book was announced, I immediately requested it.

Many similarities exist between the two books. Both tell a story with an episodic approach much like The House on Mango Street and A House of My Own by Sandra Cisneros. Both depict a history of a time and a place; one captures the 1960s civil rights movements, and the other tackles life in the projects in the 1970s New York. Both books reflect a personal and a societal story capturing the events and social constructs of the time. Both take a non-chronological, stream of consciousness approach, providing glimpses that the reader must put together into a whole. Both books are very short, easily read in one sitting. Both stories have a strong female main character coming of age.

Some major differences also exist. Brown Girl Dreaming is biographical while this book is fictional even though it reads like a memoir. Brown Girl Dreaming is geared for a young adult audience while this book is classified as adult fiction. Brown Girl Dreaming is written as poetry, while this book is more of a narrative.

August's Brooklyn is "another Brooklyn." The story is told from August's perspective as an adult looking back on her childhood. The story in a nutshell is as follows. August starts life in Tennessee. One day, her father moves with August and her brother from Tennessee to the "foreign world of Brooklyn." Why does their mother not come with them? What do the children believe, and what is the actual truth? The manner in which this alters August's life becomes a major theme of the book. The manner in which August's reactions differs from that of her brother become the two counterpoints of the story.

In Brooklyn, August finds a new world and a sisterhood of teenage friendships - Sylvia, Angela, and Gigi. The girls go through "growing up" together - dreams, parental restraints, first kisses and more, economic differences, and their own disputes - while surrounded by the life of poverty and struggle that is August's Brooklyn in the 1970s. Then, life happens, and people scatters.

That is the storyline, but that is not how the story is told. The book is lyrical in nature and not chronological. In bits and pieces, life is revealed. This streaming, episodic approach is less successful here than in other books. At times, I find myself lost in August's story and its emotions. At other times, however, I find myself focused on the structure of the book and lose that connection with the story itself.

That occurs also perhaps because the book is very brief. The hardcover edition states 192 pages; however, the actual length of the text seems considerably shorter. As such, the book seems to only graze the surface of many of the topics it introduces - drugs, teenage pregnancy, suicide, poverty, grief, and friendship. The moments that the book touches emotions are gripping, but then it seems to slide away, distancing the reader along with it. The book is still beautifully written and an emotional story, but it just seems to miss the intensity of Brown Girl Dreaming.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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