When you're sixteen and no one understands who you are, sometimes the only choice left is to run. If you're lucky, you'll find a place that accepts you, no questions asked. And if you're really lucky, that place has a drum set, a place to practice, and a place to sleep. For Kid, the streets of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, are that place. Over the course of two scorching summers, Kid falls hopelessly in love and then loses nearly everything and everyone worth caring about. But as summer draws to a close, Kid finally finds someone who can last beyond the sunset. (summary from Goodreads)
Brooklyn, Burning is different to everything I've read before, and it's lyrical writing makes for an enjoyable and memorable read.
Right off, the most obvious point of interest about this book is that the gender (and consequently, their sexuality) of Kid and Scout, Brezenoff's main characters, are never revealed. Told from Kid's point of view, 'you' and 'I' is used throughout and descriptions of their looks and clothes are androgynous. Having only read the summary above, I was initially caught off guard by this - though it did take me a few pages to actually realise! I didn't find it overly confusing however, though I did try and guess for a bit what their genders may be. It was of interest to me that I automatically assumed Kid was male - even before reading the book. But then as I read I changed my mind...and then again. It wasn't long before I got so into the actual story that their gender pretty much became a non-issue. Kid and Scout could be either male or female and it wouldn't have made a difference to the story. Not such a non-issue though that it doesn't make me think even now - do gender and/or sexuality have a part in defining a person? Here, for me, it's clearly a no. But then Brezenoff's other characters, like Fish, Konny, Jonny, for example, seem to embody certain gender and sexuality stereotypes that stand out against Kid and Scout. All of it works together to make you wonder, and I for one enjoyed the wondering. I was especially impressed that despite such an obvious and interesting technique, by the end I didn't care to find out.
More so, I really liked that Kid and Scout's undefined gender and sexuality weren't the focus of the story. It plays a part - especially in terms of the tension between Kid and Kid's father - but it isn't about trying to figure it out. Instead, the mystery is what happened to Felix, the boy Kid fell for the previous summer, and who burnt down the warehouse where Kid and him were living - was it Kid or someone else? The warehouse was a historical landmark, and the police are determined to pin it on someone, and all roads point to Kid. I really liked Kid, who I think is a character every reader can relate to as someone who is just trying to find their place in the world, figure out who they are. I also truly enjoyed Kid's relationship with Scout - the way they had an immediate connection and it slowly built into something more over the summer, it was smouldering. I wanted to know the truth about Felix and the warehouse, but I needed to know what would happen between Kid and Scout. I admit that I was a tiny bit disappointed with the ending, mostly because I wanted more. Scout was a little elusive throughout the story and I had hoped I'd get some answers that would allow me a better connection to the character. However, I do appreciate the hopefulness of the ending too - it fit.
Brezenoff's writing definitely scores points too. A major theme of the book is music and in it's way the story itself is music - his writing is lyrical and flows beautifully, and his descriptions sing. For Kid, music comes alive, and in much the same way, Brezenoff's words did for me. I was drawn in from page one. I do not know Brooklyn at all, but I truly believe that if I read this book again and had pen and paper on me, I could draw a map of the place. I've read praise for Brooklyn, Burning that describes it is a love letter to music and Brooklyn - I couldn't say it any better than that.
Overall, Brooklyn, Burning was original and unexpected. It seems such a simple story, but it packs a lot of punch, both beautiful and thought-provoking - it'll stay with readers even after the last page.
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books
Published Date: 28 September 2011
Format: e-Galley received from NetGalley
Many thanks to Lerner Publishing and NetGalley.
Challenges: 2011 YA Contemporary Challenge