First of all, it doesn’t happen every day that a high profile writer publishes a work set in our neighborhood. Jacqueline Woodson is a New York Times bestselling author, who had previously published two dozen acclaimed children, middle grade and YA books, and won a National Book Award (think Oscar for books) for her memoir “Brown Girl Dreaming.”
Her novel “Another Brooklyn,” is set in Bushwick where Woodson grew up herself. It is such a sensory ride through the beautiful and the terrifying of “growing up a Girl” in Bushwick that at times it made me wonder if the publishers got the genre right. “Another Brooklyn” feels like a 200-page-long poem, or mediation on girlhood, friendship and coming of age at the edge of poverty.
I read “Another Brooklyn” in one sitting, in half a plane ride to L.A. drinking it all in, feeling the joys and the pains, having my heart wrenched as well as tears about to burst several times.
The novel follows young August as she moves with her father and younger brother to a modest third-floor apartment in Bushwick from Tennessee. It is unclear what happened to her mother – we only know that she was talking to her own dead brother who had fallen in Vietnam, and that August and her brother miss her a lot. August tells her little brother that she will come tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.
First shyly, through the third floor window August observes her new world, which is so unlike her former one. It seems scary and rough but she also longs to be part of it. Through the window she observes a trio of girls of her age who laugh loud and with their arms linked, they walk the streets of Bushwick as if they owned the world. August remembers how her mother had warned her from female friendship advising her not to trust other women. But August quickly becomes the fourth in the group as if it was always meant to be that way. Together the girls feel strong, and invincible, even as they grow older and in their early teens become a prey to men who tell them what they would like to do “to them, with them, for them.”
But the girls keep dreaming — dreaming themselves away “as if there was another Brooklyn” while navigating their girlhood. The timeline keeps masterfully shifting and we see August’s academic, Ivy League educated adulthood juxtaposed with love, rape, betrayal, and death.
Forty years later, the reality of being female in Bushwick as sketched by Woodson, still resonates. Violence on women still happens a little too often, street harassment is still not uniformly rejected as unacceptable, and little girls as well as women still navigate this everyday reality while trying to make the most of their lives.
“Another Brooklyn” by Jacqueline Woodson was published on August 9, 2016 by Amistad, an imprint of HaperCollins Publishers. It is 192 pages long. Get it at the publisher’s website, Amazon (we’re affiliates) or at library.