Book Review: Brooklyn, Burning

Brooklyn, BurningBrooklyn, Burning by Steve Brezenoff.  Sept. 2011. 9780761375265. Gr. 9-12.

We are very excited to showcase this book on our blog, (it was recently a finalist in NPR’s “Best-Ever Teen Book” feature, and was also recently named to YALSA’s 2012 “Best Fiction for Young Adults” list) but we are even more excited to feature an interview with Steve Brezenoff, which will be posted here tomorrow. Please enjoy my review below, and check back tomorrow for my interview with the author!

Unique and important.  These two words jumped into my mind after reading Brooklyn, Burning by Steve Brezenoff.

Upon first glance, this appears to be a well-written, music-infused love story, set in a Brooklyn neighborhood.  It is all of those things, but as you get into the story, additional layers reveal themselves.

Brooklyn, Burning’s uniqueness begins with the first-person narrator, Kid.  Brezenoff deftly and purposely leaves Kid’s gender ambiguous. Since you don’t find the pronouns “he” or “she” to guide you in the storyline, you may find it disconcerting or challenging to read.  But, in my experience, it really adds to the story, as I found myself trying to guess Kid’s gender. The more I got into the story, the more I discovered it didn’t really matter, which is possibly the intention of the ambiguity in the first place! Kid is a homeless teen who has been kicked out of his/her home by a father who won’t accept Kid for who he/she is (see how hard it is…I already used pronouns!).  Kid meets fellow musician and street kid Scout.  They hit it off, and both literally and figuratively, make sweet music together.  The romance blossoms, and Brezenoff gives readers a look into the experience of living on the street, not knowing where you are going to sleep, or how you will get your next meal.   The story of Kid and Scout’s romance is moved along by a subplot that involves the arson-related destruction of a warehouse in the neighborhood.  Kid is a suspect, and questioning by the police leads to even more uncertainty in Kid’s life.  Will Kid be forced back home to a dysfunctional family?  Will Kid be placed in a group home?

Brooklyn, Burning is an important YA novel.  While romance is at its heart, the issues it tackles supply the substance of the book.   It may be all too easy for society to forget about homeless teens, but Brezenoff shines the bright lights of Brooklyn on the topic.  Readers are reminded that there are kids out there who are struggling to survive on the streets.  Also, we see the damage that is caused when a parent fails to show their child unconditional love, in this case, due to gender ambiguity.  Kid needs acceptance and support from his family, and does not get it.  Kid’s father is a very unsympathetic character, and his rigidity and old-fashioned thinking causes great damage to their relationship.

Despite all of these extremely heavy issues, Brooklyn, Burning is not a bleak, hopeless book.  There is a hopeful tone to Kid’s narration, and I found myself really rooting for Kid to find the life he/she desires.  It may sound idealistic, but we should all hope that, just like in Brooklyn, Burning, love transcends gender, circumstance, culture, living situation, and all else.

Ryan

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