Sunday, February 5, 2017

"Another Brooklyn," by Jacqueline Woodson

Jacqueline Woodson is known as a prize-winning and bestselling author of children’s and young adult fiction, as well as for her memoir (written for children/young adults), “Brown Girl Dreaming.” With “Another Brooklyn” (HarperCollins, 2016; audio version -- to which I listened -- by Blackstone/Harper Books), she writes a novel that can be appreciated by either adults or young adults; the subject matter and level of writing are too mature for children. This short novel takes place in the Brooklyn of the early 1970s, when the section of Brooklyn where the main characters live is changing from mostly white to mostly African American, because whites are fleeing. The main character, August, is a young African American girl who, along with her father and younger brother, moves to Brooklyn from a rural area of Tennessee, where they seemed to have had an idyllic life, until the children’s mother died, a suicide. The children do not accept that she has died, believing (or convincing themselves to believe) for years a fantasy that she will soon be coming back to them. Meanwhile, August becomes part of a group of four girls who are extremely close friends, and who sustain each other through the years of late childhood into mid-adolescence. The story is a paean to, and reminder of, the closeness that girls’ friendships can achieve. But it is also, like Roxane Gay’s short stories (see my post of 1/24/17), a powerful and terrible reminder of the fragility of young women’s lives. The girls learn early on that they are objectified and vulnerable as females. At first they are confident that their female friendships can protect them against the boys and men who leer at them, or molest them, or pressure them for sex. But sadly, they learn that as life comes at them, there are some things that friends cannot protect against. This book captures very well the mixture of feelings and experiences that so many young girls and women experience in a racist, sexist society (although the novelist does not use those terms explicitly). It also captures the way that some young women are able to escape or overcome the difficult and even traumatic parts of their lives, and some are not; it is not always predictable which ones will be which.
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