The title of Jacqueline Woodson’s brief, powerful first novel for adults, Another Brooklyn, could mean many things. Is it an acknowledgment of the difference between the Brooklyn of the 1970s and today’s hipster kingdom? Is it meant to distinguish her gritty book from Colm Tóibín’s bestseller, Brooklyn, which became an Academy Award-winning film? Or is Woodson referring to the ways in which memory can change a place in our minds as the years go on?
Woodson—a National Book Award winner for Brown Girl Dreaming—introduces her narrator, August, as she looks back on her arrival as a young girl to 1970s Brooklyn, in the midst of upheaval that includes white flight and poverty. August’s parents left behind a farm in Tennessee, and Woodson’s descriptions of both rural and urban settings are vivid and poetic. As she approaches her teens, August befriends three tough but vulnerable girls. The four friends pursue divergent dreams, which are meant to transport them from Brooklyn, but are also fueled by their experiences there. Powerful subplots explore the fates of August’s uncle, drafted to Vietnam, and August’s mother, drifting off into madness.
Another Brooklyn is so slim as to almost be a novella, and the scenes are brief and impressionistic, sometimes just a few sentences long. This, however, does not detract from the vibrancy of this coming-of-age story. Though August—and most of the characters in the book—are at times overwhelmed or enraged, they persevere. A question posed by August late in the book resonates with nearly all of the characters in this tender yet searing novel: “How do you begin to tell your own story?”