Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Brooklyn, Burning, by Steve Brezenoff


This is actually only one of two books I really want to talk about. I also want to talk about Please Ignore Vera Dietz, by A.S. King, but I just un-reviewed The Dust of 100 Dogs, by the same author, so I'll try to get to Vera on Monday.

As you know, when I write a post specifically recommending a book, I usually do it at Afterglow Book Reviews. Like I did for 100 Dogs. But Brooklyn, Burning, is different. It's a book unlike any other I've ever read, and it has something important to say. Something that's close to my heart.

Brooklyn, Burning (Carolrhoda Lab), at its heart, is a love letter. It's a love letter from the protagonist, Kid, to Scout. But it's also a love letter to Brooklyn, and a love letter from humanity to music. Centrally, though, it's a love letter from Kid to Scout. Kid is a street kid, a teenager that has runaway from home, we think at first, but later discover Kid's father kicked his child out of the house. Kid spends two summers in the book, working (and sometimes drinking) at a local bar, but mostly playing drums in the basement, with two different guitar players so attractive in their stark humanity, one can't help but fall in love with them.

I'm not here to talk about the plot. This isn't really a book about what happens. This is a book about people. About characters. About who something happens to. In some ways, I'm kind of a moron, because I didn't realize it was laid out plainly in the blurb (I read on Kindle, purchased with my own money), but I soon discovered that Brezenoff was doing something incredibly unique with his characters. Felix, the boy Kid falls in love with the first summer, is clearly described as a boy, but due to the unique style of first person narration, neither Kid, nor Scout, the guitarist Kid falls in love with during the second summer, are ever explicitly described as one gender or the other. It's really a brilliant thing, even if easily missed at first.

That being said, this isn't a LGBTQ issues book. The fact that gender identity is something Kid's friends and chosen family of the streets agree is something each individual has the right to decide for themselves is not the forefront of this tale. But it is what struck me the most about this novel. I thought it was a beautiful homage to the power of character, because it illustrates the point that people are people, and characters are characters, and they don't have to be defined by whether or not they have a penis, and whether or not they are attracted to people with penises. There is so much more to a person than that.

There is music, and there is defiance, and there is loneliness, and there is hope. None of these things is exclusively masculine or feminine, and it really makes for an immersive story experience to read a tale through a lens that is not adulterated by any of the expectations society places upon one gender or another.

I highly recommend you read this book, not only because it's a lovely story, but because it will open your eyes to the idea that there is not only one way to tell a tale.

Here are some places you can find out more about Brooklyn, Burning, Steve Brezenoff, and Carolrhoda Labs:

Steve Brezenoff on Twitter.
Steve's Blog.
Steve's Website.
The Carolrhoda Lab Website.
The Carolrhoda Books Blog.

31 comments:

Jessica Bell said...

This really sounds like my kind of book! Checking it out right now. Thanks, Matt!

Matthew MacNish said...

Dude, you are going to love the parts about music. It's not explicitly a book about bands, or jamming, but when he describes playing, he does it with such tenderness.

Creepy Query Girl said...

wow- this sounds like a really unique read! And character-driven novels can be just as addictive and touching as plot-driven ones. Thanks so much for this review!

farawayeyes said...

Love character studies, character development, seeing them as 'real' and feeling what they feel. Thanks.

Took your advice on the last read and you didn't steer me wrong. Interested to see what you have to say about Viera.

Bryan Russell said...

Sounds interesting, both in the story and the technical sense.

Suzie F. said...

I will definitely check this out. Music was a huge part of what got me through my teenage years. Thanks for the recommendation, Matt.

Carrie Monroe said...

Wonderful book. I also read the Absolute Value of -1 and liked that as well.

Talli Roland said...

Sounds like a very interesting read! Thanks, Matt.

Sarah Ahiers said...

ooh this sounds great. I'll definitely add it to my kindle

Michael G-G said...

I'm challenged just reading this review--and by that I mean that I totally bought in to the idea that Kid was a guy (I bet it was because s/he played drums, which is what my oldest does, and about a million other guys I know, and practically no "girls.") So when you went "Kid's in love with Felix," I went "Oh, this is LGBTQ." But then you (and Steve Brezenoff) did this cool twist, in which Kid's gender is not mentioned throughout the novel, and I'm like "Wow!!!!"

This sounds like a world-rocking read. Sorry if my comment reads strangely, but I (was) woke(n) up far too early this birthday morning.

Slamdunk said...

High praise Matthew. With that, it definitely sounds worth a closer look...

Jessica Salyer said...

Sounds like a great book. I'm putting it on my must read list now.

Suze said...

'people are people, and characters are characters, and they don't have to be defined by whether or not they have a penis, and whether or not they are attracted to people with penises. There is so much more to a person than that.'

This is certainly true, however it is also true that whether or not you have a penis has certainly shaped who you are, how you see the world, how you communicate, how you process information and, even, what you need. Gender should not limit a person, ever, but it does.

Dawn Ius said...

No wonder you held off to review this! Great post - and thanks for pointing me to a book I now MUST read. Awesome.

Matthew MacNish said...

@ Suze - that's certainly a fair point, but read this book, and you'll know what I mean.

Nancy Thompson said...

I need to learn a lot more about character-driven stories. Sounds like this it'd be a great place to start. Thanks again.

Johanna Garth said...

This sounds like such a beautiful story. I love it when music is used as a way of helping us to more fully understand the characters.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

So we can see the characters anyway we choose? Interesting.

maine character said...

Sounds cool. I once took a character's name to mean they were a guy, when they weren't, and was disappointed when I later had to change their image in my head. Sounds like I won't have that problem here.

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

Wow. I gotta read this book. It sounds amazing.

Julie Dao said...

I've been reading so many heavily plot-driven books lately that it would be very refreshing to read one centered around the characters and their development. This one sounds fascinating. Thanks for the recommendation!

Rusty Webb said...

It does sound very interesting... I'll pick up the sample and hope I get to it before I forget why I got it... I have so many books in my tbr pile. It's a bit ridiculous right now.

Kristen Pelfrey said...

I am excited to read this book.
This is officially in my top ten favorite posts by The MacNish.

Kimberlee Turley said...

Wow, I just love the cover!

Suze said...

Gotcha. Thanks for the rec.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Sounds like a story that colors outside the lines. Intriguing. Thanks for the recommendation.

Richard said...

This seems to be a must-buy for me as I love music. "Dude, you are going to love the parts about music. It's not explicitly a book about bands, or jamming, but when he describes playing, he does it with such tenderness."
This one got me totally interested :)

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I can't believe this is the first I'm hearing about the book. Sounds great. :D

Melissa Sugar said...

I am all about character driven stories and this book sounds like my kind of book for a few reasons. I am putting it on my purchase now list. Thanks for reviewing it because I had not heard of it and would hate to miss out on such an interesting read.

Vivi said...

Steve's book sounds so unique and intriguing. Plus, I follow him on Twitter and he is totally up on Jim Gaffigan humor. Enough said. :)

(BTW, I just read Vera and loved it. It was so good, it kinda made me mad. You know how it is.)

Sarah Pearson said...

What a fantastic review. I'm definitely adding this to my list. It sounds like something my girls would get a lot out of too.