Brooklyn, Burning by Steve Brezenoff
Date: September 1, 2011
Series or Standalone: Standalone
Format: hardcover, 202 pages
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First line: On the corner of Franklin and India streets in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, is the north wall of Fish's bar.
Have you heard of this book: Brooklyn, Burning by Steve Brezenoff? If not, let me tell you why you should put it on your list. Here's the short answer: you'll be hooked. The longer answer...well, let's continue. (And I apologize because I tried to say less and I couldn't.)
I'll start this review by talking about the setting, which is Brooklyn. (I bet you didn't get that from the title.) Everything is so detailed--from the mural to the street corners to the cellar of Fish's bar. I loved it. They all added something incredible and unmatchable to the story. I could see everything, which was really important to have something concrete since I didn't get that with the characters. (more on that in a minute.)
The story jumps to Kid's past-- the summer before with a mysterious boy named Felix and a more mysterious fire. It's so amazing and sad and completely terrifying because you know that it will break your heart. You know because you see how Kid is now. Only, you have no idea WHY.
One compelling aspect of the story, carried both in the present and the past, is the music. Kid is a drummer, along with Felix and Scout. Now, I'm not a musician but I know what it's like when something comes alive, fills your blood and makes your heart race. I don't know if Brezenoff is a musician (or was ever before). But every single time Brezenoff describes what it's like to play, how it sounds, how it feels---I felt it. That takes a lot of talent.
Another great part of the story, the part that made it for me, it Kid's voice. I love Kid. Kid is a blend of poetic and grit and pain and hope and snark and insecurity that come out to create this incomparable narrator. And you have Scout, who is undeniable and intriguing. The passion between and for them really comes across on the pages. There's a line where a minor character says, "The love between you is so obvious it crackles." And it does. Seeing Scout through Kid's eyes is a different perspective, but still gives you the freedom to paint your own picture.
What Brezenoff does with his characters and the abstracted-ness of their existence is completely amazing. There's a line in the book that Kid's father says, "I have a kid who doesn't know whether to be straight or gay or a boy or a girl or what."
I (personally) have never read this before. On the back of the ARC there's this line about the book, "Brezenoff never identifies the gender of his two main characters, and readers will draw their own conclusions about Kid and Scout." And IT'S SO TRUE. And unique. And intriguing. And wonderfully done.
There isn't much physically that we know about Scout and Kid, other than Scout has black hair and bangs---which could be a boy or a girl. We don't know if they are male or female. I thought that would be weird, but I got so involved and committed to the story that I didn't even notice. I had this picture in my own head and that's what mattered. But that picture kept changing, even. I loved that. I've never read a book where something so "important" is unclear and....doesn't matter all that much at all.
I also really loved the whole cast of minor characters, too. Fish, Jonny, Konny...they were all just a really intricate part of Kid's story. Kid's parents even served a purpose that was so special. The message there (especially of Kid and Kid's mother) will definitely resonate with a lot of people.
Another great aspect of the book is that Kid tells the story to "you", which is Scout. I could see that part in my head. The two of them sitting together and Kid telling this whole but thing about last summer and this summer and what it all means.I'm not sure how accurate that is, but I don't even really care. This book is about interpretation. The things that matter are told and the rest is up for you to decide. Its a hard thing to pull off and Brezenoff does it fantastically.
Everyone wants new and refreshing stories, things that are different--and this is one of them. The great thing about this book is that it's for everyone. It will resonate differently with everyone. It will get people thinking in so many ways. And you shouldn't miss it.