Another Brooklyn

  • Hello everyone! Senior year of high school is officially well underway (oh my goodness), and with it has come homework, thermos after thermos of tea, and lots of college talk (so much college talk). However, I am still trying to find time to read when I can, and one of my favorite recent reads by far has been Another Brooklyn, National Book Award-winner Jacqueline Woodson’s first adult novel in 20 years.

Another Brooklyn is told from the point of view of August, a young anthropologist who is swept into memories of her childhood in 1970s Brooklyn after an encounter with an old friend on the subway following her father’s funeral. However, it is not only the story of August’s childhood but also those of Sylvia, Angela, and Gigi, the girls she becomes so close with that they are almost like sisters, holding hands and linking arms as they confront the heartbreak and pain in each of their private lives. And it is all told in Woodson’s beautiful, twining prose, heartbreaking in its own evocative way.

One of the things that most caught my attention about the book is the way in which Woodson tells her characters’ stories–they are not straightforward, but winding, taking leaps from memory to memory with new details coming into the picture at any given time. She does not so much tell the story as reveal it, filling in the gaps of the girls’ lives little by little, making the plot turn and twist in a way that is not only extremely well done, but incredibly engrossing at the same time. It is one of the many things that made me want to never put the book down.

However, one of the other things that makes the book easy to get lost in is the characters. Woodson paints each of the girls with a vibrant, talented brush, making each one unique and flawed in her own right. They may be sisters, but each is also her own person, with her own life and troubles outside of August’s sphere. Woodson vividly brings to life the challenges and confusion that come with growing up in a world that seems increasingly complicated and dangerous, and the heartbreak that it so often brings.

But finally, my favorite thing about Another Brooklyn, and the reason I fell so deeply in love with it, was the writing. Woodson’s prose flows so smoothly and seamlessly, without ever being flowery or decorative, that it feels as if it isn’t prose at all, but poetry. It paints the lives of August and her girls in sharp clarity, putting things in such a way that it is beautiful to read but also true. Each word feels carefully chosen, never wasted, and they are put together in a way that makes each page and line bear its own emotional weight. It made me want to go on reading the book forever, if only for the sake of reading more of that fantastic writing.

Throughout the book, August’s most common refrain is “This is memory,” speaking to the lives and the childhoods whose stories Woodson tells. She captures days, months, and years in these pages, touching on pain, love, friendship, and the ways in which these can change over time. Another Brooklyn is captivating and heartbreaking, but arguably the most notable thing about it is the humanity it captures in just 170 pages. And that is one of the most wonderful things a book can do.

Hope you all have a great rest of the weekend, and that you get to read some amazing books like this one 🙂 I’m off to work on a little more homework and then to indulge in a brownie.

–Nora

Quote of the Day: “Because even though Sylvia, Angela, Gigi, and I came together like a jazz improv–half notes tentatively moving toward one another until the ensemble found its footing and the music felt like it had always been playing–we didn’t have jazz to know this was who we were. We had the Top 40 music of the 1970s trying to tell our story. It never quite figured us out.” —Another Brooklyn, by Jacqueline Woodson

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My Favorite Books of 2014

Well, it’s that time of year again (and has been for quite some time, but I’m late as always). Cookies have been baked, trees have been decorated, menorahs have been lit, and that means that the end of the year is nigh. However, as of right now it is still December 30th, 2014, and that means I still have time to post my favorite books of the year. And oh gosh, they were so good. So before I get distracted. . .

This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl by Esther Earl, with Lori and Wayne Earl

There are some books that I feel like everyone should read at some point, and This Star Won’t Go Out is one of them. Esther Grace Earl may be best known for helping to inspire John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, but she was also a remarkable young lady all on her own. TSWGO is a collection of her artwork, diary entries, and writing, allowing the reader to get an up-close look at Esther and her life. Esther’s voice is so distinctive that I could still hear it in my head even when I wasn’t reading, and the amount of love she had for her family and friends is apparent throughout. TSWGO isn’t just about Esther the Harry Potter Fan, or Esther the Cancer Patient, or Esther the Catitude Member. It’s about Esther in all her entirety, and it’s without a doubt one of my favorite books of the year, and one of the ones I loved the most. (Review here.)

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

If I were to compile a list of the books that blew my mind in 2014, We Were Liars would be at the top of it. It tells the story of Cadence, the oldest grandchild of the elegant and wealthy Sinclair family. Every summer the family gathers on Beechwood, their private island not too far from Martha’s Vineyard. But when an accident on Beechwood changes almost everything about Cady’s life, she’s left with no memory of what happened, and no one seems to want to enlighten her. Even the Liars, a group comprised of two of her cousins and their friend Gat, are being secretive. E. Lockhart paints the picture of her story in a way that’s hard to forget, slipping between prose, poetry, and clever retellings of fairy tales in a way I’ve never seen before. Even the writing itself is shocking, and as for what actually happened. . .well. You’ll have to find that out for yourself. (Review here.)

Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

The fact that I immediately thought of rereading this as soon as I typed the title should give you an idea of how much I absolutely loved this book. It tells the story of a teenage girl living as part of Hitler’s inner circle in Munich in the 1930s, and how drastically her life changes in the time leading up to Hitler’s election as chancellor of Germany. Blankman’s plot and characters are incredibly well done, and she handles the heavy subject matter in a way that is both mind-blowing and so, so good to read. Definitely one of my favorite historical fictions ever, let alone from just this year. (Review here.)

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Set in 1959 Virginia, Lies We Tell Ourselves is about what happens when two very different girls (with two very different worldviews) are forced to interact. Sarah Dunbar is one of the African American students integrating all-white Jefferson High School, while Linda Hairston is the white daughter of the one of the town’s most vocal segregationists. When the girls have to work on a school project together, they find themselves each developing feelings for the other, in ways they never wanted to. Robin Talley writes her characters in a way that sucks the reader in, and I kept wanting to know what happened next, even after the pages were closed. Part of me sincerely hopes for a sequel, but in the meantime, definitely give Lies We Tell Ourselves a look. I’m looking forward to whatever Talley has coming out next.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

>mind blown all over again<

If Prisoner of Night and Fog was one of the best historical novels of the year, I’ll Give You the Sun is one of the best contemporaries. Jandy Nelson portrays the messy, complicated, art-infused relationship between twins Noah and Jude with considerable talent, hopping between two different time periods of their lives and pulling it off very well. The characters are one of the shining stars of the novel, and the writing is fantastic. I couldn’t put it down, and when I finally did, I kept reeling over how good it is. (Review here.)

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

All the books listed before this have been fiction, but Brown Girl Dreaming (by the talented Jacqueline Woodson) is far from it. This is Woodson’s memoir in verse, taking the reader through her childhood, from Ohio to South Carolina to New York. She makes even the most everyday activities become lyrical and beautiful, and she touches on everything from her love of writing to the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Panthers. Brown Girl Dreaming is the story of how Jackie Woodson became Jackie Woodson, yes, but it’s also a story with many important points to make, and a beautiful book of poetry to boot. It’s definitely one of the best books of the year, as well as a National Book Award winner! (Review here.)

Well, that’s about it (although I could very well think of more after I post this). I didn’t get as much reading done this year as I would have liked to, but 2014 brought some seriously amazing reads to the shelves, and introduced me to several authors I can’t wait to read more of. I hope you all have had a wonderful holiday season so far, and an absolutely marvelous 2015. 🙂 Happy New Year!

Bookish Quote of the Day: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” –Dr. Seuss

P.S. And thank you so much for visiting the blog this year. For liking, commenting, subscribing, putting up with my crazy rants and my lack of caps lock self-control. Thank you just for taking the time to read. It means a lot and I’m grateful for it all 🙂 Have a great holiday, and read some good books! (And eat candy!)

Brown Girl Dreaming (AKA a National Book Award Winner!)

Hi everyone!

So apparently, because I live in a cave and am not good at keeping up with current events, and also because I am just generally not a super up-to-date person, I missed all the stories about the National Book Awards. Namely, that JACQUELINE WOODSON WON.

Yes, good job me. >pats self on back<

Anyway, considering I’ve been planning on reviewing said award-winning book for ages, I figured now is as good a time as any. So let’s begin, shall we?

I’ve previously only read one book by Jacqueline Woodson, her excellent novel After Tupac and D Foster. However, Brown Girl Dreaming is something a little different–it’s an autobiography in verse, taking the reader through the author’s childhood.

The book takes in a lot of young Jacqueline’s life, from her birth in Columbus, Ohio, to her mother’s childhood home of Greenville, to New York City. Woodson encompasses her family’s history, her awareness of the Civil Rights Movement, her discovery of writing, and it all adds up to an intimate portrait of her childhood and what she thought and felt at the time.

One of my favorite parts of the book was the one covering the period of time when Woodson lived in Greenville, South Carolina, with her grandparents, mother, and sister and brother. This was one of the sections that I could most strongly see in my head, from the red dirt of her grandfather’s garden to the way her grandmother would do the girls’ hair on Saturday nights. I love it when an author paints a vivid picture of his or her story, and Woodson delivers in a way that is both entertaining and oh-so-fun to read. She depicts everything from her childhood activities to the civil rights protests taking place downtown, writing:

“Even my mother joins the fight.

When she thinks our grandmother

isn’t watching she sneaks out

to join the cousins downtown, but just as she’s stepping through the door,

her good dress and gloves on, my grandmother says,

Now don’t go getting arrested.

And Mama sounds like a little girl when she says,

I won’t.”

I love the way Jacqueline Woodson writes. I love her prose, but this book proves that she can write amazing poetry as well. Her words flow wonderfully, and she brings so much to life for the reader–the setting, her family, the everyday rituals that fill up our lives. She invites the reader in and makes seemingly mundane subjects bloom into lyrical images of her life, all pieced together in an endeavor to show how Jacqueline Woodson became Jacqueline Woodson. But she also touches on the bigger changes that were taking place in the U.S. as well, writing about Martin Luther King, Jr., the Black Panthers, and more. Brown Girl Dreaming isn’t just a wonderfully written look into the author’s childhood; it’s also an important look at the issues that were relevant then, many of which are still relevant today.

All in all, Brown Girl Dreaming is honestly a joy to read, and it deserves the National Book Award so very much. So I’m a little late with this, but: Congrats Jacqueline Woodson!!! The book deserves all of this and more. It’s definitely one of the best books of the year.

And now, because it is a Friday night and I am exhausted, I shall leave you to roam the Internet. And maybe eat a cupcake. Hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

Bookish Quote of the Day: “I believe in one day and someday and this perfect moment called Now.” –Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

After Tupac and D Foster

This books, guys. Oh, this book. Emotions. Emotions.

Obviously, the title of said book is After Tupac and D Foster, written by the lovely Jacqueline Woodson. The book is narrated by a young girl living in Queens, right across the street from her best friend, Neeka. And one day, when she and Neeka are sitting on a stoop, D Foster turns the corner and enters their lives. And then, well. Nothing is the same.

The girls become close friends, sharing stories, experiences, and, of course, music. Specifically, the music of Tupac Shakur, a songwriter and rapper who seems to understand them. But D is a puzzle–she “roams,” as she likes to call it, walking the streets of New York City. “I saw all the trees and got off the bus and just starting roaming over this way,” she says when she first meets them.

Neeka and her friend don’t even know her real name.

As the story progresses, the girls grow. They turn into teenagers. They get into arguments, they laugh, they listen to Tupac. They worry together when Tupac is shot. And then he’s shot again–just a little while after D disappears, spirited away by a mother who’s ready to try again. And the first time our narrator talks to D in ages, it’s when D calls, saying, “Hey, girl. Our boy ain’t gonna make it.”

The characters in this book. God, I loved the characters. I just want to make everything better. I want to give Neeka’s brother Tash a guy he’ll love and who’ll love him back. I want to erase his jail time, because he shouldn’t have been imprisoned in the first place. I want to help Neeka to be the somebody she so badly wants to be. I want to protect Tash’s brothers–when he tells them never to end up where he is, it just hurts. Tash knows some people are going to judge them before they even open their mouths. And finally, I want to put the two halves of the nameless narrator together, for her to find herself in all those books she’s reading all the time.

And God, D. I want to hug D. I want to wrap up the life she should have had and put a bow on it and give it to her for her birthday. D is awesome, and she’s been through a lot. When she tells her friends about her mom wanting to try again, I felt a physical something in my gut. Jacqueline Woodson’s characters are so well-written and real, and I love them so much. They’re strong, and they’re human.

I also love THE WRITING. Trust me when I say that this author is a GREAT writer. Her prose flows and the voice of the narrator is so strong. I feel like I should post like five quotes or something, just to show you. So if there’s more than one quote at the end of this post, you’ll know why. The writing is freaking awesome.

Tupac and D Foster is definitely a book I recommend. It’s a fairly quick read, but it packs a lot of feeling and awesomeness into those 100 and something pages. It’s a truly great book, and I intend on checking out more of Jacqueline Woodson’s books soon.

Also, because it would be a sin to write a review of this book and not to link to some of Tupac’s music, here’s one of the two songs mentioned in the beginning of the book:

Have a wonderful Mother’s Day everybody!

Bookish Quotes of the Day:

“It’s like he sees stuff, you know? And he knows stuff. And he be thinking stuff that only somebody who knows that kinda living deep and true could know and think.”

“It’s because we black and we kids and he’s black and he’s just a kid–even though he’s twenty-three–and every single song he be singing is telling us a little bit more about what could happen to us and how the world don’t really care . . .”

“The summer before D Foster’s  real mama came and took her away, Tupac wasn’t dead yet.”

P.S. The part with Tash and his brothers also made me think of this amazing poem by Javon Jones: