Review published on January 4, 2018.
In this seemingly simple novel, crossover novelist and poet Woodson tells the tale of August. From the perspective of her return after 20 years to bury her father and clear their home, it is her recounting of her removal as an eight year old, with father and younger brother, to Brooklyn and how she builds a friendship with Sylva, Angela and Gigi. It is this central friendship that takes her through a none too easy life in the New York neighbourhood that will be subject to deterioration and change that accompany the “white retreat” and increasingly poverty and deprivation. This group friendship, although it will not last, becomes her core of stability that takes her from a child in an alien city, without her mother, into her teenage years and into her future. As it grows, evolves and mutates, it becomes central to her happiness and development as a strong woman – her friends are perhaps not so lucky.
Woodson is a brilliant writer and her words are so evocative of the lives she is trying to depict. Almost casually she drops background details of the community and the people in it – building an extraordinarily fine sense of place. We are shown too, her father and brother as they adapt to their new lives and how they cope. Initially from the perspective of a child, but through the “return” theme from an adult perspective too. August chose friendships, her father and then brother will choose the Nation of Islam – wildly divergent options. So the story is also firmly embedded in a time past.
Do not expect a basic “happy ending” story, with a beginning, middle and end. This is a very detailed and sympathetic portrayal of part of a life – a life that will certainly continue and maybe even strengthen. At the same time as making absolutely implicit how important female friendships can be to the security and growth of young women it will not ignore the less fine things and the failures of others.
It might be strange to say, in spite of the things mentioned above, that this is both a compelling and beautiful novel. The flashes of memory and the exploration of both family and friendship bedded in a series of other influences and realities make this an extraordinary novel. It makes me ashamed to admit that I had never heard of Woodson before this book fell into my hands. But if you are interested in people it is undoubtedly one of the best of the year.
Hilary White 5/5
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
Oneworld Publications 9781786072375 pbk Sep 2017
Devil’s Day by Andrew Michael Hurley