Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
“For a long time, my mother wasn’t dead yet.” Love a good opening line and Woodsen’s slim novel reads like poetry (but in a good way, like listening to Springsteen). Told in flashback, August recounts her abrupt childhood move to Brooklyn after her parents split, with her brother and very over protective father. As she sits by the window, yearning for the return of her mother, her isolation is relieved in the form of three neighborhood girls. We watch as August, Sylvia, Angela and Gigi start out as double-dutching adolescents and follow them as they come of age in ’70s Brooklyn, where life is more complicated and dangerous than they could have imagined. Says August, “sharing the weight of growing up Girl in Brooklyn, as though it was a bag of stones we passed among ourselves saying, Here. Help me carry this.” Sigh. This one is a gem.
The Wangs vs. The World by Jade Chang
Cosmetic titan Charles Wang gets caught up in the 2008 financial crisis and loses absolutely everything. As his Bel-Air mansion is repossessed before his very eyes he decides…road trip! He sets out for upstate New York, where oldest daughter, Saina, has aged into the family trust, meaning she now gets to support the family. As a disgraced artist who fled New York City, Saina is trying in vain to juggle her own problems which include an ex-fiance and new boyfriend. Never-the-less, Charles hits the road, stopping along the way to pick up daughter Grace from prep school and son Andrew from University…obviously he can no longer afford tuition. Oh, and lets not forget Babs, who fills the role of wicked step mother to perfection. This clueless brood is a whole lot of fun as they cross the country, each coming to terms with being spectacularly poor. Young Grace, whose biggest worry has been competition on her fashion blog is hoping this is all a big joke to teach her a lesson in appreciating their swell life. Andrew isn’t worried, he’s going to be a stand up comic, fortunately for the reader we get to see his painful act at an open mic somewhere in Austin, TX. Charles thinks he can make a go of it back in his mother country and Babs just hates everyone. I thought this novel would be one big farce, but as the family comes together the realizes money can’t buy everything, a much more meaningful message gives the story a little more weight. I found myself rooting for the crazy Wang clan!
Faithful by Alice Hoffman
Shelby is depressed and filled with self loathing after a car accident puts her BFF in a coma, so she blows her shot at NYU and hooks up with her drug dealer, who turns out to be a hell of a guy…so she dumps him! You get that she’s self-destructive, yeah? Salvation for our heroine comes in bits and pieces; a surly fellow employee who becomes a loyal, life-long friend and a mysterious stranger who sends her cryptic post cards over the years turns out to be an unlikely angel. As she grows up and away from the guilt she carries, we see a woman who finds strength for the misfits in her life, stray pets, miserable teenagers and ultimately her devoted mother. A mystical element that Hoffman injects into her stories is a little strange here; Helene, the gal in the coma, now has the ability to heal, which is kind of cool but doesn’t impact the main characters in any way. The real magic is in the messed up, lovable characters and how they help Shelby shine.