“When we had finally become friends, when the four of us trusted each other enough to let the world surrounding us into our words, we whispered secrets, pressed side by side by side or sitting cross-legged in our newly tight circle. We opened out mouths and let the stories that had burned nearly to ash in our bellies finally live outside of us.”
– Jacqueline Woodson, Another Brooklyn
It’s no secret that I love a light-hearted, fun, and easy read. (See here, here, and here for evidence.) And I do, I really, really do. But interspersed with these lighter, heartwarming reads, I like to read earth-shattering, heartbreaking novels filled with complex characters, issues, and writing. Enter: Another Brooklyn.
Another Brooklyn is Jacqueline Woodson’s first adult novel in twenty years. Our protagonist, August, has returned home for the first time in years. Running into a long-ago friend sets memory from the 1970s in motion for August, transporting her to a time and a place where friendship was everything. For August and her girls, sharing confidences as they ambled through neighborhood streets, Brooklyn was a place where they believed that they were beautiful, talented, brilliant.
But beneath the hopeful veneer, there was another Brooklyn, a dangerous place where grown men reached for innocent girls in dark hallways, where ghosts haunted the night, where mothers disappeared. A world where madness was just a sunset away and fathers found hope in religion.
Another Brooklyn is filled to the brim with tension. August is becoming a woman in an incredibly unforgiving world. One where her race, her gender, and her class all create a host of insurmountable difficulties. August and her friends are strong-willed girls, prepared to take on the world. But as they grow and develop and learn more about the world they live in, instead of strength, they develop shame and fear. Shame in their class, in their backgrounds, in the ways that their families live in comparison to others. Fear in their gender and their skin, and the many dangers that both of these unchangeable attributes create for them.
Woodson continually juxtaposes scenes of childish innocence and hope with profound scenes that show the fractured ways in which these girls are approaching womanhood. It’s the scenes of young girls playing hand songs, followed immediately by the image of a man ambling down the street, having lost both his arms, who had learned how to shoot up using only his mouth. It’s the passage where the girls are celebrating the changes their bodies are going through, followed immediately by the newfound dangers they faced just by being visible: “whispers in our ears as we passed strangers. Promises—of things they could do to us, with us, for us.” It’s beautifully written and heartbreakingly portrayed in a way that I’ve never seen before. At times you feel nostalgic for your own childhood, only to be immediately horrified by the unexpected circumstances that these young girls face.
Here at The Savvy Reader, we have a favourite gif to sum up our feelings when we’ve read a really amazing book that we want all of our friends to read. You’re probably familiar with it by now:
And it seems light-hearted and fun, but I am 100% serious about this. Woodson’s novel is a breathtaking account that I firmly believe any literary lover (or any book lover in general) NEEDS to read. If I could, I’d be sending a copy to each and every one of my friends, begging them to read this.
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