Review: Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

I picked this up on a bookshop browse a few weeks ago in the new fiction section. I hadn’t heard of the book itself, but had heard of Woodson’s memoir Brown Girl Dreaming. After reading the first sentence, I fell a little bit in love and couldn’t leave without it…

For a long time my mother wasn’t dead yet. 

Do you ever pick up a book and get a tingly feeling of fate? A little funny instinct that somehow this story will be important to you.

Another Brooklyn is the story of a friendship between four girls, as August looks back to growing up in the 1970s. It is rich with beautiful and brutal moments which connect into a richly moving novel.

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The style of this book reminded me of Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill, which was one of my favourite reads last year. The prose is formatted so that the paragraphs have a gap between them; and the layout is not all that bears a resemblance to poetry. The writing is lyrical and intensely rhythmical, intertwining with the themes of music which crop up again and again.

This layout also reminded me of Cynan Jones’ Cove, but the prose here does something very different – like Dept. of Speculation, this is first person all the way through, whereas Cove shifts voice and tone regularly.

Reading this book felt like one breath, although I stopped a lot to scribble thoughts on post-its. Woodson gives a masterclass in condensed prose, in writing which is brief but encapsulates a huge amount of feeling.

There are so many themes which come up repeatedly in here, and so many that I’d need another read (and another, and another) to see properly. Music is a regular, important theme, and its role in forming identity; the unreliability of memory, of reconstructed stories about ourselves. Many things are described as ‘halfway’ to something, there are recurring mentions of wholeness, a refrain between August and her brother:

Still whole?”
“Still whole.”

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The major theme of the book is difficult to capture – is it friendship? Identity? Growing up? Memory? This is another refrain, throughout the book: This is memory.

The genius of that first line is that the truth of it hit me several times throughout the book. To begin, it is striking, and sounds like a reflection on not appreciating what you have while it’s there. But as the book went on the character was revealed, I understood it in multiple ways, as more information became clear.

I absolutely adored this book – without a doubt it’s one I’ll read again. It surprised me again and again with the intensity and beauty of the prose. If it sounds like something you’d enjoy, definitely give it a go.

Book Only

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