39 pages 1 hour read

Jacqueline Woodson

Another Brooklyn

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2016

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Summary and Study Guide


Another Brooklyn is a 2016 novel by Jacqueline Woodson. After the narrator, August, returns home to care for her dying father, she runs into her former friend Sylvia. This encounter leads her to reflect on her childhood in Brooklyn in the 1970s and the way she coped with her mother’s death. The novel unfolds in fragments: each chapter moves between August’s girlhood memories and adult life as an ivy-league educated anthropologist who studies cultural rituals around death and mourning. As she moves rapidly between scenes, locales, and time periods, August thus emphasizes the non-linear character of both grief and memory.

The novel begins in the early 2000s, when August meets up with her brother after her father’s funeral. While the two were close as children, they have now grown apart: her brother is a devout member of the Nation of Islam and is expecting his first child with his wife Alafia; he takes comfort in Allah. Meanwhile, August eats bacon (contradictory to Islam mores) and takes solace in her training. While she believes she “finally answered” (9) the momentous question of death, her run-in with Sylvia on the subway back to Brooklyn leads her to think back to the friendships she has not finished mourning.

August reflects on her past: at 8 years old in 1973, she moved with her father and brother from SweetGrove, Tennessee to Bushwick, Brooklyn. Her mother had begun to hear the voice of her younger brother Clyde, who was killed in the Vietnam War. August believes her mother will join them in Brooklyn, and she tells her brother each night that their mother on her way. In Brooklyn, they adjust to their new life, looking at their neighbors through the windows. There, she first spots Angela, Gigi, and Sylvia, a group of three beautiful girls who are always together.

When August’s brother breaks through the apartment window and badly cuts his hand, she begins to realize that her mother may not come, although she still cannot fully accept this reality. His injury is a turning point in another sense: finally, their father lets them out of the apartment. As August begins school, she befriends the three girls. They ask her if she is the girl without a mother, and while she denies it, they tell her that she is now part of their group. The four girls share a sense of profound loneliness, and they begin to defend each other in the difficult world of 1970s Bushwick.

Each girl has her own familial difficulties: Sylvia’s Martiniquais parents are strict and expect her to succeed as a lawyer. Gigi’s mother gave birth to her daughter as a teenager and expects Gigi to excel as a singer and actress where she herself could not. She urges her daughter to “overcome” her dark skin and strive for greatness. Angela keeps her family situation secret, but her sudden flashes of dark emotion while dancing suggest a difficult home life. As the four girls reach adolescence, they comfort Gigi when a homeless soldier assaults her; warn each other against neighborhood predators; and teach each other to kiss.

As August reaches adolescence and gets her first boyfriend, Jerome, her father becomes a member of the Nation of Islam. His new girlfriend, Sister Loretta, encourages the family to become pure in body and spirit: they begin to eat a new diet, clean their home, and attend mosque. While August is somewhat comforted by the new stability and routine, she feels lingering guilt over her mother’s continued absence, as well as over her sexual experimentation.

The girls enter high school and their lives take different paths: Gigi enrolls in a performing arts school, and Sylvia’s parents send her to a Catholic school. While they remain close, and even sexually experiment with each other, circumstance begins to create distance. First, Angela’s mother dies of a heroin overdose. Her friends learn that they never knew her true story or circumstance, and they don’t even know where she lives. This event shakes August in particular, as she must finally confront the fact that her mother is, in fact, dead—she had drowned herself in SweetGrove seven years before.

As August digests this reality, she faces a betrayal: Sylvia slept with her ex-boyfriend Jerome and has become pregnant by him. August is surprised that the friend with the brightest future has forgotten both her potential career as a lawyer and her loyalty. She increasingly isolates herself from her friend group, focusing on her studies. When Gigi invites her friends to her drama club performance, they all fail to show up, with disastrous results. August soon learns that Gigi killed herself by jumping off the roof of the Chelsea Hotel after her voice cracked during the play.

At Brown University, August tries to create a new identity for herself. Motivated by her childhood, she studies death. In her new life, she discovers jazz music, which seems to encapsulate the struggle and grief she and her friends have gone through. However, it also reminds her of the loss of these friendships. She continues to mourn them through adulthood, traveling around the world. In all of her relationships, she is accused of being cold and distant; she struggles to say, “I love you.”

Although August proclaims that she has mastered the question of death—that she is still “whole” after her father’s passing—her encounter with Sylvia leads her to do a different kind of mourning. Throughout her narration, she reflects on the nature of death, loss, and memory from her childhood to her adulthood. In the final pages of the novel, she remembers her last visit to Tennessee, during which she realized that her mother was truly gone. Similarly, her visit to Brooklyn to care for her father, attend his funeral, and deal with his belongings seems to be a turning point: she confronts the reality that her friendships and the Brooklyn where they took place are also gone forever.