Another Brooklyn is Jacqueline Woodson’s new novel – but is it a novel? I don’t know. Woodson is queen of the “prose/poem,” and Another Brooklyn strikes me as a genre-blending work. It is short – just 173 pages, with brief sections of text and wide margins. The language is spare and unflinching.
My first exposure to Woodson’s work was with 2014’s Brown Girl Dreaming. That memoir earned her the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Another Brooklyn is marketed as an “adult” novel, but it is a reasonable choice for older teenagers, too. There is sexual content and some serious themes, but this coming-of-age story will still appeal to younger audiences.
The novel is a snapshot of growing up in Brooklyn in the 1970s. The main character, August, describes her friendship with four other girls, pulling the reader through the emotions of being teenagers grappling with family tragedy, first love, religion, and betrayal. In this sense, this book has an “every girl” quality about it. But it is also a story particular to African Americans growing up in this particular time period. August is navigating her family’s journey from the rural south to the urban Northeast. She is navigating issues of class in the African American community. She watches her neighborhood experience white flight and the effects of segregation. The strength of the story lies in Woodson’s ability to pull the universal and the particular together in a seamless way.
But if I’m honest, I wish that Woodson had put the meet some more meat on the bones of this work. I wanted her to fill up the pockets between the lines. There’s a distance that the prose/poem style creates that I wanted to bridge. I wanted to fall into this story, and the beautiful-ness of it pushed me away.
Critics don’t seem to share this concern. Another Brooklyn was recently longlisted for this year’s National Book Award.