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BookBrowse Reviews Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

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Another Brooklyn

A Novel

by Jacqueline Woodson

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson X
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2016, 192 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2017, 192 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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Set in the 1970s, Another Brooklyn illuminates a powerful, indelible, and fleeting friendship that unites four young lives.

There's a trend this year of award-winning writers for young people – like Robin Wasserman, Gayle Forman, and Meg Rosoff – publishing significant literary fiction for an adult audience. Now acclaimed young adult author Jacqueline Woodson joins those ranks. Woodson, who won the 2014 National Book Award (among many other accolades) for her memoir-in-verse Brown Girl Dreaming, again explores themes of coming of age in her new novel.

The title Another Brooklyn might evoke contemporary real-estate pitches about up-and-coming urban environments (e.g., "Boise, Idaho, is poised to become another Brooklyn"), but in Woodson's novel set in the 1970s, "Brooklyn," particularly its working-class Bushwick neighborhood, means something much different and more complicated: "I watched my brother watch the world, his sharp, too serious brow furrowing down in both angst and wonder. Everywhere we looked, we saw the people trying to dream themselves out. As though there was someplace other than this place. As though there was another Brooklyn." For teen-aged August, as well as her friends and family, Brooklyn is a landscape to be traversed warily, a territory rife with dangers, a place from which to escape, or at least try to.

Like many of their neighbors, August and her family are relative newcomers to Brooklyn. August moves there with her father and younger brother from a romanticized place they call SweetGrove, Tennessee. August continually reassures her brother that their mother, who had become increasingly unbalanced after their uncle's death in Vietnam, will return to them any day now. But their mother never arrives, and despite memories of her mother's exhortations to "keep women a whole other hand away from the farthest tips of your fingernails," August finds herself longing for the friendship of other girls, particularly the tight-knit relationship of three in the neighborhood: Gigi, Angela, and Sylvia.

After some initial shyness on August's part, the four become inseparable: "four girls together, amazingly beautiful and terrifyingly alone." As they travel from childhood into adolescence, they must navigate an environment in which their hopes and aspirations are continually under threat by poverty's hindrances, by men's (often unwanted) attention and expectations, and by society's assumptions about their curtailed potential.

Another Brooklyn is a novel told in retrospect. August's recollections of her adolescence – not all of them welcome – are prompted by a return visit she makes to Brooklyn as an adult, during her father's terminal illness. On the way home from the funeral, she spots Sylvia on the train, and immediately the two decades since she's last seen her friend melt away, flooding August with a rush of memories. "This is memory," she repeats again and again throughout her narrative, continually reminding readers of both the power and fallibility of human recollection and understanding.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given Woodson's background not only as a novelist but also as a poet, Another Brooklyn is told in spare, lyrical prose, with a surface simplicity that belies its underlying narrative strength and emotional heft. Often, in Woodson's novel, what isn't said is as essential as what is, and readers come away feeling as if they, in the process of reading the novel, are somehow partners in Woodson's project of telling her poignant and devastating story about dreams deferred, destroyed, and – in rare cases – realized.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in August 2016, and has been updated for the May 2017 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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