(Not) Stuck in the Middle with You

The Specs

My friends say they can’t trust my opinions because I “don’t know the meaning of best and favorite.” Maybe I’m just easy to please?

A few months ago, I tried a Mexican restaurant near my apartment. The next day I told my bestie (pun unintended), Jamie, that they had the best margaritas.

Jamie: “Haha I don’t know if I believe that. I’m pretty sure you told me last week you’d had the best margaritas at another restaurant.”

There’s truth in jest. I can’t say I have a favorite movie or restaurant. And it’s true I have a lot of bests. They say the first step is admitting you have a problem, so here we go: I struggle to make definite decisions about what I like and dislike, and I can’t commit to a firm opinion. So even though I would ideally give Another Brooklyn 3.5 flames (there’s a big difference between three and four!), I’m pushing myself as a book critic and not giving the book the benefit of the doubt. I’m not taking the easy way by giving half a flame, which is physically impossible. Therefore, I’m dropping my review to an average 1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px.

Another Brooklyn

The 2016 coming-of-age novel revolves around August, who comes back to Brooklyn as an adult after her father passes away. When she runs into a childhood friend on the subway, the story falls back to the 1970s when August, her younger brother, and father moved to Manhattan’s eastern neighbor following her mother’s death. She forges friendships with neighborhood girls Sylvia, Angela, and Gigi. Together they battle the drug- and crime-infused streets, inappropriate strangers, family turmoil, white flight, and all of the physical and emotional changes that come from turning into a teenager. But at least they have their dreams and each other. They share their successes, and they share their fears.

The first thing I realized about Another Brooklyn was that it was beautiful. Woodson’s words flow together effortlessly. I felt like I was reading poetry as much as I was reading a fictionalized tale. The plot is told more through feelings, emotion, and metaphors than physical actions and dialogue.

“We had blades inside our kneesocks and were growing our nails long. We were learning to walk the Brooklyn streets as though we had always belonged to them – our voices loud, our laughter even louder. But Brooklyn had longer nails and sharper blades. Any strung-out soldier or ashy-kneed, hungry child could have told us this.” — Another Brooklyn

This beautiful writing was leading Another Brooklyn to a solid four flames, but the story happened too quickly, and Woodson relied too much on implications. For me, 170 pages just wasn’t enough. All of a sudden, August and her friends were full-fledged teenagers, and then they were in college and adults. Too much was left unsaid.

The Washington Post‘s Ron Charles perfectly explained my feelings in his review:

“It’s as much as a compliment as a complaint to say that I wish the story were fuller,” he wrote. “There’s enough material here for a much longer novel, and, though Woodson’s prose is always carefully constructed, she’s sometimes so elliptical that complicated issues are illuminated only obliquely.”

Bingo. I wanted to know more about how her friendships fell apart, exactly what happened to her mother, the particular influence Islam had on the family, how the neighborhood’s increasingly racial divide affected their lives. I wanted it to loop back to the present day and on August’s current reflections of this other Brooklyn she once lived in.

Although the words flowed poetically and well together, the structure did not. Woodson limited herself by limiting the book to only 170 pages. I could have easily read 170 more pages of her writing.

Charles didn’t seem too bothered by this in the long run: “But that’s the real attraction of this novel, which mixes wonder and grief so poignantly. Woodson manages to remember what cannot be documented, to suggest what cannot be said. Another Brooklyn is another name for poetry.”

I see his point and respect Woodson’s desire to write a different type of story, but in the end, that caused four-flame writing to be brought down by a three-flame structure. As a new book blogger who refuses to be a softie, be stuck in the middle, and give everyone a medal, I’m firmly choosing an average lit for Another Brooklyn.

“I know now that what is tragic isn’t the moment. It is the memory.” — Another Brooklyn

2 thoughts on “(Not) Stuck in the Middle with You

  1. Pingback: Ranked: Reads in 2017 | Big Little Literature

  2. Pingback: Literature and the Power of Diversity | Big Little Literature

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