Another Brooklyn by Jaqueline Woodson: Girls growing up in the ’70s

Cover imageSomeone at Oneworld has a very sharp editorial eye, or maybe there’s a whole team of them. They managed to bag both the last two Man Booker Prizes, first with Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings then Paul Beatty’s The Sellout. They also published Sweetbitter, one of my favourites from 2016, and The Prison Book Club, an equally impressive piece of non-fiction. Jacqueline Woodson’s elegant, slim novella is another triumph. It’s a book of memory, the story of a teenage girl in the ‘70s which unfolds when a chance meeting after her father’s funeral catapults August back into her past.

August and her brother lived in rural Tennessee until she was eight and he was four when their father took them back to the tough Brooklyn neighbourhood where he grew up. They miss their mother but August comforts her brother, telling him that someday she will join them. Day after day they watch the goings-on in the street from their apartment window, forbidden to leave the house by a father grown fearful after fighting in the Vietnam war. August sees three girls playing, skipping and laughing together on the summer streets. She longs to be a part of their group and, one day, she will. Smart, beautiful Sylvia, whose parents see a bright future ahead of her, welcomes August into her friendship with Gigi and Angela, both talented but less privileged. These four will form an alliance against the world, a refuge from the insistent hum of male attention, until cracks begin to form. By the time of her father’s funeral, August is an anthropologist, an Ivy League graduate who has studied death rituals throughout the world – successful but no longer in touch with the friends who had meant so much to her.

August tells her story in her own voice, unfurling the past in fragments as memories so often do. Woodson’s writing is strikingly beautiful – poetic and often impressionistic yet capable of packing an emotional punch with a single sentence or phrase. Small details, slipped in, slowly reveal why August jumps off the subway before her stop rather than greeting her old friend. It’s a narrative infused with heart-wrenching loss: ‘I thought of my mother often, lifting my hand to stroke my own cheek’ remembers August who comforted her brother as she combed his tangled hair telling him to imagine that hers are ‘Mama’s hands’. Woodson’s portrayal of female friendship is equally arresting: ‘I had 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.Another Brooklyn is a gorgeous book – deeply moving, peopled with vividly drawn characters and beautifully expressed. It will be with me for some time.

9 thoughts on “Another Brooklyn by Jaqueline Woodson: Girls growing up in the ’70s

    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      Thanks, Resh. Ah well, all that praise is well deserved! I hope you enjoy SweetBitter when you get around to it.

      Reply
  1. Naomi

    I have both of Jacqueline Woodson’s books to read now. I gave her first one to my daughter last year, but haven’t snagged it from her yet. Is this also one for the younger set, or is it solidly adult?

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      I think that would depend on how old she is. I haven’t yet read Autobiography of a Family Photo so can’t compare the two (although I’ll be seeking it out now). It’s a coming-of-age story but quite wrenching at times, and it’s written in fragments. Hope that helps, Naomi. I loved it as you can probably gather from my review.

      Reply
  2. buriedinprint

    I just loved my first book of hers, too: Brown Girl Dreaming. She might, yet, become one of my MRE (MustReadEverything) authors!

    Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      I knew she wrote for young adults but hadn’t realised quite how prolific she was – Brown Girl Dreaming seems to be a favourite. Just one other novel for adults which I’m very keen to read now.

      Reply
    1. Susan Osborne Post author

      I think they’re on fire at the moment! I loved this book although, sadly, I haven’t seen much coverage of it here in the UK

      Reply

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