On a different planet, we could have been Lois Lane or Tarzan’s Jane or Mary Tyler Moore or Marlo Thomas. We could have thrown our hats up, twirled and smiled. We could have made it after all. We watched the shows. We knew the songs. We sang along when Mary was big-eyed and awed by Minneapolis. We dreamed with Marlo or someday hitting the big time. We took off with the Flying Nun.
But we were young. And we were on earth, heading home to Brooklyn.
Jacqueline Woodson’s National Book Award-nominated novel, Another Brooklyn, slowly — and through a beautifully poetic flow — removes the false cloak of invincibility, lifelong friendships and presumed limitless possibilities that surrounded four teenaged girls in pre-gentrifed Bushwick Brooklyn during the 1970s, revealing a Brooklyn of drug abuse, racial tensions, sexual predators, lost lives and souls every bit as broken as the neighborhood residents’ dreams.
The narrator, August, is one of the invincible young quartet who later became an anthropologist who focuses on death-related rituals. She suffered two wartime losses as a child — her uncle on a Viet Nam battlefield, and then her Mother, who began to see and hear her brother’s ghost.
Another Brooklyn’s compact package has made more than one person rifle through its pages and walk away with the simple conclusion that the book is not a happy one.
But Woodson gave us much more than that.
We came by way of our mothers’s memories.
The book is rich with poetic detail about the four girls’ family lives — important artifacts to fully understand why they were drawn to each other so early and easily — as well as what would eventually become their future as friends.
Little pieces of Brooklyn began to fall away. Revealing us.
I thought about offering a story breakdown but that wouldn’t be fair to your reading experience …
Woodson ingeniously constructed concurrent retrospective lenses for August’s narration — the viewpoint of young August who found nostalgic beauty in most of the events she experienced, and another as an adult who can now see these events in horrifying detail.
Sylvia, Angela, and Gigi, the four of us sharing the weight of growing up Girl in Brooklyn, as though it was a bag of stones we passed among ourselves saying, Here, help me carry this.
And through subtle turns of metaphor, the book reconstructs much of August’s past — in multiple iterations at times — to progressively break our hearts with each chapter read.
I know now that tragic isn’t the moment. It is the memory.
One of the best books I read in 2016 …
song currently stuck in my head: “