Another Brooklyn, by Jacqueline Woodson

anotherbrooklynThis is a short and lovely book about four young African-American girls growing up in Brooklyn in the 1970s. I wasn’t surprised to learn that Woodson is best known for a verse memoir (Brown Girl Dreaming) because, although Another Brooklyn is written in prose, it’s very poetic prose. The writing has not only the beautiful and thoughtful word choices, but also the terse and spare structure of poetry. There’s a lot less exposition here than in a traditional novel: it’s almost as if we are being given glimpses or vignettes into the life of main character August, her three closest girlfriends, and her family, but it’s up to the reader to imagine the connective tissue that links those scenes together.

August’s father brings her and her brother to Brooklyn from Tennessee as children, in the wake of a family tragedy that leaves them motherless. The story is bracketed by loss: as the novel opens, present-day August meets with her remaining family after her father’s death, and memory takes her back to the childhood loss of her mother. Along the way, there are other losses. The loss of innocence as children turn into teenagers and young girls become aware of predatory men all around them. The loss of hope in neighbourhoods left blasted by “white flight” and blighted by drugs and poverty. The loss of friendships that were supposed to be lifelong. All this loss makes Another Brooklyn at times a difficult book to read, but it’s a beautifully written and haunting one.

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