“Another Brooklyn” by Jacqueline Woodson. New York: Amistad Books, 2016, 175 pages, $22.99, Kindle e-book, $16.99
As an 8-year-old, August and her family follow the diaspora of African-Americans from the rural South to a Brooklyn tenement under the shadow of unhappy circumstances. August is recently motherless and must take care of her 4-year-old little brother while her father works. The father is away long hours and has sought solace in Black Muslim religion and a series of impermanent sleepover girlfriends.
The two young siblings look down from a high window at the goings-on in their new neighborhood and long for playmates and a stable family life. August eventually befriends three other pre-teen girls who have recently arrived from far-flung parts. Included in the friend group are Angela, the unsupervised street child of a single mother; Sylvia, a budding cheerleader and the 4th daughter from an aspirational family; and Gigi, a mixed-race actress wannabe with a lithe grace and almond eyes.
As the friends approach teenage years, August observes that each girl lives under the burden of suffocating parental expectations, “adult promising us their own failed futures” in a vision to remold their better selves. The neighborhood is rough and unforgiving, and each girl senses the shadow of economic despair, predatory and opportunistic male attention, and the presence of other hungry peers dodging the child social service system by virtue of their wits and the kindness of neighbors.
Another Brooklyn begins with the adult August relating her father’s recent funeral, reliving the circumstances of her mother’s untimely death, and recounting a bittersweet encounter on public transportation with one of her childhood friend group now become adult. Fate has dealt each girl a different outcome including fame, death, emotional isolation, and teen motherhood.
Another Brooklyn is a powerful coming-of-age narrative about family, friendship, urban poverty, and loss. It compares favorably with The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros’ memoir of her vibrant Chicana childhood in a Chicago barrio, and Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows Brooklyn—both classic tales of resilience in coping with adult issues through the limited experience of tender years.
Brooklyn author Jacqueline Woodson has written more than 25 award-winning books. Her memoir Brown Girl Dreaming was the winner of the 2014 National Book Award.
Lisa Kobrin is the Reference and Local History Librarian at May Memorial Library. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.