Back in November of last year I attended NCTE’s huge annual conference. If you’re unfamiliar with NCTE, it stands for the National Council of Teachers of English, and their annual conference is a pretty big deal. The first time I went, in 2016, I referred to it as “the big one,” and my friends and family mocked me for that huge display of nerdiness. 🙂
But the conference really is a big deal–there are literally hundreds of break-out sessions on everything from grammar to the literary canon. But I’ll spare you the professional details and skip right to the book review, which is why you’re here, right? During one of the plenary sessions, the featured speaker was Jacqueline Woodson. Woodson is a highly prolific and much-celebrated writer of young adult fiction. Perhaps her most famous book is Brown Girl Dreaming, which is a YA novel about her own life told in verse.
I haven’t read Brown Girl Dreaming yet, although I’d like to; instead, I settled on Another Brooklyn because Woodson read sections of this novel during her session at the convention. The main character of the book is a woman named August who has returned to her home in Brooklyn for her father’s funeral. She has a chance encounter with a childhood friend, and it sets off a chain of memories and reminiscences that tell her life story.
As a girl growing up in Brooklyn in the 1970s, August and her vibrant group of girlfriends, Sylvia, Angela, and Gigi, learn together what it means to be women and women of color in the city. Woodson’s novel is at some times full of hope and beauty, and at others deeply tragic. The four main characters start from the same geographic place, but life takes them in wildly different directions.
I was moved by Woodson’s poetic language and her ability to weave together a story that is compassionate and eye-opening at the same time. There are some difficult moments in the book–difficult to read and difficult to forget–especially when she writes about the “other Brooklyn” where it’s not safe for girls to walk alone at night.
In a way, this book reminds me of one of my other favorites, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Besides the setting, there are a lot of similarities between the two novels. Both focus on families who live in poverty–though the Nolans in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn are far more impoverished than August’s family. Both also focus on the joys of life in difficult situations and the beauty that can be found growing there. I still think Smith’s classic edges out Another Brooklyn as my favorite, but Woodson’s poetic, cyclical style hooked me from the very first page. I can’t wait to read more of her work.