This short coming-of-age story is a beautiful read.
August, an Ivy League-educated anthropologist, looks back at her life in Brooklyn 20 years earlier in the 1970s. She becomes friends with three other girls in her neighbourhood: Sylvia, Angela and Gigi. They form such a strong bond that at times they are almost indistinguishable.
The book examines the value and power of female friendships. The girls share “the weight of growing up Girl in Brooklyn.” Friendship gives them a sense of safety and strength: “The four of us together weren’t something [the boys] understood. They understood girls alone, folding their arms across their breasts, praying for invisibility.” Friendship allows for the sharing of confidences: “We opened our mouths and let the stories that had burned nearly to ash in our bellies finally live outside of us.” The girls encourage each other: “each one moved so that the other could continue moving.” Perhaps more than anything, friendship gives them a sense of home they do not feel elsewhere: “We saw the lost and beautiful and hungry in each of us. We saw home.”
The girls witness and/or experience poverty, broken homes, the flight of whites from the neighbourhood, drug abuse, the effects of the Vietnam War on black families, the influence of the Nation of Islam, and the dangers of predatory men.
August has “a longing to be a part of who [the other three girls] were, to link my own arm with theirs and remain that way. Forever.” When she becomes part of their circle, one of the girls tells her, “You belong to us now” and August adds, “And for so many years, it was true.” Of course the girls drift apart or are pulled or lured away, and each is left with a “deep gap.” But, nonetheless, their identities remain shaped by the friendship they shared.
The narrative has a fragmented structure. Memories are not experienced chronologically so it makes sense that the adult August’s memories move back and forth through time. The language also seems appropriate to memories. It is very lyrical and flows like one memory flows into another. I almost felt as if I should be reading the book aloud - like poetry is meant to be read.
I was fortunate to have a close-knit group of four friends when I was in high school, and I was amazed at how well the author captured the intensity, inspiration and joy of youthful friendships. The novel can be read quickly but it deserves to be read more than once.