Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
In the endnotes of Another Brooklyn, where she discusses the writing of the book, author Jacqueline Woodson says, “Long before I began to sketch out the lives of August, Gigi, Angela, and Sylvia, I was thinking about what it means to grow up girl in this country…”
The thinking paid off. Another Brooklyn is one of the most powerful books I’ve read about “growing up girl.” Woodson’s spare, beautiful language, and evocative word choice is as you would expect from the Young People’s Poet and the winner of a National Book Award (for Brown Girl Dreaming), but that’s only part of the strength of this book.
Another Brooklyn takes place in Brooklyn in 1970—through memories and flashbacks—but the universal coming of age story will strike a chord with many women. It’s certainly one I could relate to—as well as to the struggles and insecurities of main character August.
August was eight when she moved to Brooklyn—“The year my mother started hearing voices from her dead brother Clyde”—but she shares her story as a memory, twenty years later, when she returns for her father’s funeral. Adult-August moves fluidly through memories and secrets of her childhood with stories of her father, her mother, her brother, her neighbors, but mostly of her three best friends.
“My mother had not believed in friendships among women. She said women weren’t to be trusted. Keep your arm out, she said. And keep women a whole other hand away from the farthest tips of your fingernails. She told me to keep my nails long. But as I watched Sylvia, Angela, and Gigi walk past our window, I was struck with something deeply unfamiliar—a longing to be a part of who they were, to link my own arm with theirs and remain that way. Forever.”
Long before they became friends, August was aware of the other girls, observing them from afar, until finally one day they all stand together for the first time, and as August remembers: “It must have felt like a beginning, an anchoring.” After that, the four become fierce best friends navigating together the changes in their bodies; the wanted and unwanted, appropriate and totally inappropriate male attention; and the hopes and dreams of their futures.
Each girl follows a different path—August eventually abstracting out her grief and uncertainty by attending Brown and becoming an anthropologist and studying how different cultures honor and mourn their dead, while at the same time escaping Brooklyn along with her own sadness and grief.
I grew up in a family of anthropologists: I trailed after my parents as they studied cultures in Kenya and Belize. I spent a lot of time on my own, and I grew up never knowing quite where I stood or how I “should” feel, and since then I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to get out of my own way. I’ve had trouble with friendships, too—never sure how to act or what to expect. I always thought this was a result of being a “third culture kid” (growing up as much in another culture as in your parents’), but after reading Another Brooklyn, I have to wonder if we all feel this way to some extent—that it’s more of a common feeling than I’ve ever realized—certainly all of Woodson’s characters grapple.
Part of the reason I love to read is that it brings me greater understanding of myself. Here in Another Brooklyn, much like August, I found an opening to my own memories, allowing an exploration of my past. A way to make sense of why I felt certain ways about friendship when I was a girl—why I still feel uncertainty about friendship now.
Last week Another Brooklyn made the longlist for the National Book Award, whose mission is “to celebrate the best of American literature, to expand its audience, and to enhance the cultural value of great writing in America.” I can’t think of a more deserving book. I started reading Another Brooklyn to gain a glimpse into another world; instead it gave me a glimpse inside myself.
Have you read Another Brooklyn? We’d love to hear what you think!
Link to buy Another Brooklyn at your local independent bookstore (we love them!) or at Indiebound by clicking here.