Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Publication: Amistad, hardcover, August 2016
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 friends, 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."
Audience: I was reminded of another coming of age story, Black Ice by Lorene Cary, which my book group read many years ago. Cary wrote about being one of the first African-American women to attend St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire and the lasting image of that book is her loneliness. In a way, Cary’s book is the missing section of Another Brooklyn as it is made clear that August improbably attends Brown University but the part of her story where she excels academically in order to reach the Ivy League is reduced to an offhand mention of APs and PSAT review.
Another coming of age book I thought of was Charms for the Easy Life by Kaye Gibbons about a Southern family in which the heroine’s mother is also the victim of mental illness and, if I recall correctly, appears and disappears mysteriously when she is receiving psychiatric treatment. August yearns for her mother and refuses to accept that her mother is dead and not returning.
The most interesting relationship is between August, her father, and her brother. Her father is lonely and brings women home to the couch in the family living room which serves as his bedroom. He is not comfortable in traditional churches, believing they are for whites only, and is recruited by the Nation of Islam, where he becomes a fervent supporter (but doesn’t stop bringing women home – ah, hypocrisy, thy name is religion). The father provides for his children as best he can and while they run wild and are dressed shabbily, he is caring enough to take the day off when August’s friend Angela’s mother disappears and to find August an educated woman from the Nation of Islam to talk to when she is a depressed teen.
August’s nameless brother follows his father’s religion and maintains it as an adult, but August, compliant on the surface, dislikes the new lifestyle and diet the family follows, and yearns for bacon. I was worried that when August made friends and started hanging with them every day that her brother would wind up in trouble but perhaps his love of math kept him as safe. Eventually, August becomes an anthropologist (having honed her powers of observation) and does not appear to have much time for religion but she and her brother have a good relationship as adults and it is clear the bond of their neglected childhood still unites them. The book begins when they are burying their father.
What I disliked: The book moves from present to past to not so distant past, and one reviewer compares it to a “fever dream” which is very apt. Reading books that consist of streams of consciousness is not really my thing. The book was extremely readable but very sad, and I was distressed by all the different threats August and her friends faced in their neighborhood. As August points out, she and her brother were lucky their father cared about them and did his best to give them a home where they were never hungry. However, they were neglected and in danger. On the other hand, August’s friend Sylvia was from an affluent home and provided with most advantages, and that did not prevent her from misadventure. I had a hard time keeping August’s friends straight until the end, although they were very different.
Amistad/HarperCollins and TLC Book Tours for giving me this book in return for an honest review. You can visit other stops on the tour by clicking here.