Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson. 2016. Amistad.
The acclaimed New York Times bestselling and National Book Award–winning author of Brown Girl Dreaming delivers her first adult novel in twenty years.
Running into a long-ago friend sets memory from the 1970s in motion for August, transporting her to a time and a place where friendship was everything—until it wasn’t. For August and her girls, sharing confidences as they ambled through neighborhood streets, Brooklyn was a place where they believed that they were beautiful, talented, brilliant—a part of a future that belonged to them.
But beneath the hopeful veneer, there was another Brooklyn, a dangerous place where grown men reached for innocent girls in dark hallways, where ghosts haunted the night, where mothers disappeared. A world where madness was just a sunset away and fathers found hope in religion.
Like Louise Meriwether’s Daddy Was a Number Runner and Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina, Jacqueline Woodson’s Another Brooklyn heartbreakingly illuminates the formative time when childhood gives way to adulthood—the promise and peril of growing up—and exquisitely renders a powerful, indelible, and fleeting friendship that united four young lives.
Why Another Brooklyn Matters
Jacqueline Woodson writes modern classics and while I know many teachers put her YA books into students’ hands, I firmly believe her few adult novels are worthy of classroom time. What I love about Another Brooklyn in particular is its focus on young female characters with complicated and important friendships. In talking with my students about their own reading lives, many of them mourn the jump from middle grade fiction to young adult fiction because this step up means a move from books about friendships to books about romantic relationships. They don’t think that YA and adult fiction can even be about friendship, let alone about a friendship between four girls of color. So a book like Another Brooklyn seems like an essential piece currently missing from our students’ reading lives.
Another Brooklyn plays with the archetypal female coming-of-age story in a way that’s both beautiful and heartbreaking. So many young heroines in children’s books seems to understand that the freedom they have won’t last forever, yet we readers rarely get to see them awakening into adulthood. Woodson portrays August and her friends believe in their dreams and their abilities. They support each other in an unwavering manner. They love their friends fiercely and expect the world for themselves and each other. But of course growing up changes their understanding of the world as much as it changes them. This transition is rendered so powerfully and tenderly, that it’s sure to resonate with students who have or will experience this dissonance.
As a poet, Woodson also manages to do a lot in a very few number of pages. Another Brooklyn is fewer than three hours on audio book (another bonus for bringing it into the classroom!) but it gives readers four fully developed characters without unique backgrounds and essential perspectives. She also masterfully evokes a particular time and place, transporting readers to 1970s Brooklyn—a depiction of New York most students are wildly unfamiliar with.
Themes and Social Issues: female friendship, coming-of-age, immigration and assimilation, grief, mothers and daughters, race and racism
Literary Features: Woodson’s writing is absolutely stunning. While her prose isn’t flowery, it is vivid and poetic. She manages to simultaneously evoke the feeling of being a young girl and the highly specific time and place of 1970s Brooklyn in less than 200 pages. The novel also uses several important structural techniques including a frame story and interconnected vignettes.
Pairs Well With: Salvage the Bones, The House on Mango Street, The Joy Luck Club, The Great Gatsby, Edith Wharton, coming-of-age units, fairy tale units
Content to Consider: The most difficult content in the novel are the two suicides. Both are clear to most readers, but Woodson uses very poetic language that some students may miss and all students will need to process and unpack. The teenage characters in the text also have intense sexual encounters and while these are described very briefly, they are graphic and blunt.
Grade Level Recommendation: 11th-12th
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