“I lifted my head to look up into the changing leaves, thinking how at some point, we were all headed home. At some point, all of this, everything and everyone, became memory.”
Thus ends the hauntingly beautiful lyrical novel Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson. This was my first foray into Woodson’s work, and I have to admit, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d read that she was an amazing writer, and she has a National Book Award to prove it. Yet, I’d read other highly praised novels and been sorely disappointed. Not so with Another Brooklyn.
“The year my mother started hearing voices from her dead brother Clyde, my father moved my own brother and me from our SweetGrove land in Tennessee to Brooklyn.”
August, Gigi, Sylvia, and Angela are four young Black girls growing up in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York in the 1970s, and the novel opens with August’s recent return to Brooklyn to care for her dying father. Most of the novel is told in flashbacks and stream of consciousness type reminisces by the novel’s protagonist August, whose chance meeting with her old friend Sylvia sends her reeling into the past.
Woodson’s novel is a love poem to that past, to Black girl friendships everywhere, but particularly in the city where drug addicts and soldiers home from Vietnam are struggling to survive, and where young Black girls are often seen as problems, not princesses. The girls learn to rely on each other, keep each other’s secrets, and protect each other with a fierceness most of us can only aspire to, even as adults.
“This is memory.”
While reading, I was transported to my own childhood, where instead of playing double-dutch and sitting on the stoop, we played kickball and red-light/green-light until the streetlights came on and everyone went home. Still, I was able to imagine myself in August’s Brooklyn, which again, speaks to the power of this novel. Or perhaps it’s because Woodson’s character is just a few years older than me, or because I was raised in Georgia, or because my uncle’s wife lost her brother to a heroin addiction in New York in the 1970s. I don’t know, but I do know that that’s the beauty of this novel, because is it memory, the reader is able to reflect on her own friendships and family and wonder, as Woodson does, why some survive and some do not.
The novel is short, less than 200 pages, but it is enough. Woodson fills her pages with ethereal, arresting prose, reminding us that a writer doesn’t need a plethora of words to make her point, just the right ones.
Reviewer: S. Andrea Allen
S. (Stephanie) Andrea Allen, Ph.D., is a native southerner and out Black lesbian writer, scholar, and educator. She is the author of a collection of short stories and essays, A Failure to Communicate, (BLF Press 2017), and is hard at work on her first novel. Connect with Stephanie on Twitter, Goodreads, or Facebook.