Monday, November 21, 2016

Jacqueline Woodson's Other Brooklyn

Product DetailsLong before the brownstones started going for a million dollars and up, there was "Another Brooklyn." Jacqueline Woodson is fortunate enough to now live in the new, gentrified Brooklyn, but there was a time when she lived in the middle of Bushwick, when white flight was happening all around her and  neighborhoods were being populated by black and Latino families. This is the Brooklyn that is a full-blown character in Ms. Woodson's first book written for adults. Finally!

I've written before about a new phenomenon that really seems to be catching the literary imagination. It's the memoir as novel,  a trope that allows the writer much more freedom even as it keeps the reader guessing. How much of this actually happened? In an interview, Ms. Woodson said that her books may not all be physically autobiographical but they are "emotionally autobiographical." I love that distinction. I love this book.

Ms. Woodson covers so much emotional territory in this finely tuned novel/memoir that in only 179 pages my senses ran the gamut, from poignant melancholy, to worry, to wise laughter, and memories of my own young adulthood. Oh, it's remarkable how she perfectly captures such an achingly difficult time!

There is a mystery in the novel that slowly reveals itself. Our narrator August moves north from Tennessee with her brother and her dad, yet there is a huge hole in the family that was once occupied by their mother. "Why didn't she come with them?" asks her baby brother. "When will she arrive?"

Woodson creates a beautifully written bond between August and her little brother, alone at home all day while their dad is at work, not allowed to leave the house for their own safety. Their faces are often pressed to the window from which they observe the neighborhood. They long to join in with the other kids, jumping rope, bouncing balls, running through the pulsing water of the fire hydrant, but a full season goes by before their dad feels comfortable letting them explore their diverse, fascinating cityscape.

It is from this window that August first spots the girls, Sylvia, Angela, and Gigi, with whom she will develop a seemingly inseparable friendship. Remember, if you can, the angst, the drama, the secrets and confidences shared during your teen years. Woodson depicts this time so realistically that I actually began to relive old hurts leveled by girls I thought I could trust, and acts of gross misbehavior instigated by a bully to whom I couldn't say no.

And though "Another Brooklyn" is about the dangers and pitfalls of growing up as a black girl, the story has universal appeal. Each of the girls has a dream, not each will live up to her potential. Burgeoning hormones run rampant, fear of pregnancy is never far from the girls' minds, the stigma and the lost opportunities. There is also a lovely exploration of Islam. August's dad and then her brother convert, finding joy in their daily devotions, the healthy dietary restrictions, and the intellectual rigor, such a different vision from the hate- filled rhetoric of today.

I own this marvelous little book. After sitting next to Ms. Woodson at the National Book Festival there was no way that I couldn't buy it, right? If you've gotten this far in my post then you may be more than a little interested in reading her. I'd be thrilled to "pay it forward" and send my copy to the first person who comments.


Linda said...

It's been months since I've read this lovely book, but your review brought it all back. I agree that it has universal appeal, and I truly loved it. (Since I've already enjoyed it, the second person to comment should receive your gift.)

Sallyb said...

Oh thank you Linda. We really must get together to talk books - anything other than politics! Perhaps between Thanksgiving and Christmas? I went down to the Elaine Newton lecture on "Our Souls at Night," taking 7 pages of notes for my book discussion in January. In December I'm doing "The Bridge Ladies."