August, the narrator of Jacqueline Woodson’s new novel grew up in Brooklyn in the 1970s. Her father brought her and her brother there from Tennessee, leaving their mother as a memory whose coming August hoped for every day. Initially, they watched the other children of Brooklyn from their window, forbidden by their father to go outside. But eventually, they joined the neighborhood, and August found her girls. As an adult, she remembers:
Somehow, my brother and I grew up motherless yet halfway whole. My brother had the faith my father brought him to, and for a long time, I had Sylvia, Angela, and Gigi, the four of us sharing the weight of growing up Girl in Brooklyn, as though it were a bag of stones we passed among us saying, Here. Help me carry this.
August has returned to Brooklyn for her father’s funeral when she encounters Sylvia for the first time in 20 years. The brief meeting takes August back to her childhood, and the book is her memory. She thinks of her friendship with the other girls, the loss of her mother, the counselor from the Nation of Islam who helped her voice her truth.
Jacqueline Woodson is known for her children’s and young adult books. She won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2014 for the wonderful memoir in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming. Now, with Another Brooklyn, she’s been longlisted for the National Book Award for Fiction.
I’ve now read several of Woodson’s books and enjoyed them all, and this one is no exception. Her language is so evocative without being fussy. It’s crisp and clear with all the right details. This book, which is all about memory, has a dreamlike quality. There are gaps in August’s memory and moments that are more about feeling than about specific events—the feeling of being part of a group, the feeling of being alone, the feeling of looming maturity, the feeling of childlike fearlessness.
Woodson is especially deft here at capturing the tension of the period between childhood and adulthood where the girls feel prepared to take on the world but are unsure of what it means. Their world, as it turns out, is treacherous. They are brave, but there are internal and external dangers that could lead them to tragedy. Or they could just be nudged off the path their parents planned for them. They make their own choices, but they’re subject to others’ will. This period is neither wholly tragic nor wholly triumphant.
This is a short book, just under 100 pages. I read it in two sittings but could have finished it in one. It doesn’t dig in particularly deep; it’s more about images and impressions from the past than about analysis of it. It’s a lovely book and a sad one, sort of like life sometimes. And if you haven’t read Woodson, it’s a good place to start.
I received an e-galley of this book for review consideration via Edelweiss.