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Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

WoodsonAnother Brooklyn is Woodson’s first novel in 20 years. Best known as an author of children’s and young adult books, she has been the recipient of the Newbery Honor Medal (four times), The Coretta Scott King Award, The National Book Award, and The Caldecott Medal.

Set in the 1970s, Another Brooklyn tells of growing up black in a neighborhood characterized by crime, drug addiction, and white flight. The main character, August, is now 30 and looking back on her childhood. Like the author herself, she has relocated, with her father and brother, to Brooklyn. Her mother did not move with them and this loss resonates throughout the novel.

The writing is highly evocative and the story is told through the eyes of its young narrator. “I watched my brother watch the world,” she writes, “his sharp, too-serious brow furrowing down in both angst and wonder. Everywhere we looked, we saw people trying to dream themselves out. As though there was someplace other than this place. As though there was another Brooklyn” (p. 77).

The time frame of the 1970s looms large. There was great social unrest and racial disparity in the country. The specter of Viet Nam hovered ominously. Heroin-addicted vets filled every street corner. August’s uncle, and indirectly, her mother, died as a result of that war. Even her father returned from the war minus two fingers. The whole nation, from the late 60s through the 70s, was irreparably changed.

But the core of the novel is about the intense friendship August has with three other girls. Their fates, like those of August, are closely tied to a childhood each tries to escape. Another Brooklyn is first and foremost about the impact of memory. Tayari Jones, in her New York Times review, concludes:

Woodson brings the reader so close to her young characters that you can smell the bubble gum on their breath and feel their lips as they brush against your ear. This is both the triumph and challenge of this powerfully insightful novel. “This is memory,” we are reminded. But this is also the here and now. There is no time to take a few paces back and enjoy the comforts of hindsight. The present, we are repeatedly reminded, is no balm for the wounds of the past.*

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*New York Times Book Review, 18 August 2016

 
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