Brezenoff, S. (2011). Brooklyn Burning. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Lab.
YA Realistic Fiction / Contemporary Fiction / Urban
QuickNEasy, 195 pages, ages 14+
I gave this 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.
I started reading this book for two reasons: 1) I am on a trek to find books appealing to kids who don't think they like to read, and 2) this book was under 200 pages and available at the library!
Going into a book cold-turkey is always interesting. I hadn't read the book jacket or any reviews of Brooklyn Burning and assumed by the cover that the book was about a pyromaniac. (By the way, I like the cover and am so glad that it's not a back view of a teenaged girl wearing a formal gown and her hair blowing ever so subtly in the wind. Thank you Steve Brezenoff. Never mind that the girl cover wouldn't fit in any way, shape, or form with the contents of the book.) So, not knowing what I was in for, I was initially frustrated because I couldn't tell if the main character, Kid, was male or female. Enter character Scout, who also is not identified as male or female, and I started to get it. Ding! The author was being INTENTIONALLY VAGUE in stamping a gender label on these characters. Brilliant! People are just people with talents and skills and beliefs and feelings.
The book's main character is Kid, who writes some chapters directly to Scout, so that the readers almost feel like they are getting a peek into a journal or love letter. Other chapters are written as general narratives, mostly filling in what the readers don't know about Kid's year prior to meeting Scout. Those back chapters made my heart ache for all the injustices poor Kid experienced, and they made me angry. Had Kid's parents been accepting and loving and acted like parents, Kid's life wouldn't have been so hard. On the other hand, as a result of being rejected by Kid's father, Kid found love not once but twice and acceptance in places and ways that never would have been possible if Kid's parents had just loved Kid.
The characters that showed love and acceptance towards Kid were really what made this story push forward. With the presence of Fish, Jonny, and Konny, the readers didn't have to waste energy worrying about things that didn't matter -- Kid was going to be okay. Imperfect as they are, these characters feel so real and familiar -- like you'd find them in any inner city neighborhood, looking out for their own.
There are questions that aren't answered (namely, the genders of two major characters), but it's okay to be left wondering about some things. And again, that intentional vagueness reminds us that sometimes there aren't clear answers for the questions in life.
On the Clean-O-Meter rating. . . this is tough. There's an Fbomb fairly early on, but then I don't recall there being so much as a damn after that. There is significant underage drinking (mostly without any consequences, effects beyond the characters being identified as drunk), and drug references of shooting-up and junkies. There is also a character who is a bisexual prostitute, but we are spared any details, and another character who is a minor and very sexually active with multiple partners, though we are also spared details. Several of the characters are lesbian or gay or bisexual or questioning or not caring. Again, no details other than putting two and two together that character A - who is either male or female - is attracted to both males and females. There are several homeless teenagers, but they all seem to have food, money, shelter, safety. There isn't any violence and nothing in the story is graphic. I'm going to say a 7 out of 10.