Brooklyn, Burning: review

June 20, 2011 4 star books, realistic fiction, steve brezenoff, Wendy 2

Brooklyn, Burning
by Steve Brezenoff

There is a certain rough beauty which can be found in urban environments. Anyone who has stood on a rooftop at sundown or noticed a patch of wildflowers poking out of a concrete sidewalk will appreciate the strange duality of natural and manmade aesthetics, as well as the occasional difficulty in finding security and happiness in such surroundings.

For Kid, who has been living on the streets for over a year, the city of Brooklyn offers both strength and sadness and love and loss. Kid’s parents can’t seem to accept a lifestyle that doesn’t fit neatly into a box, and Kid turns to one person after another looking for fulfillment that can’t be found at home. This is a slow, gritty coming of age story that deals with painful family relationships, small but impossible dreams, unexpected kindness, hopeful love, and the hard truth that sometimes friends can understand you better than the people you’ve known your entire life.

Written in matter-of-fact prose that is ever more affecting because of its lack of sentimentality, Brooklyn, Burning offers a troubling look at what many kids go through when their families can’t or won’t accept their fundamental sexual identities. The author pulls off the incredible trick of never revealing Kid’s gender to the reader, and it’s clear that Kid’s father’s refusal to open his heart to his son/daughter is the direct cause of Kid’s desperate struggle to find some measure of peace and happiness outside of self and outside of home.

Despite its pragmatic style, there is incredible beauty and a great deal of latent emotion in this moving book. Kid’s longing for human connection lingers over every conversation and every thought, and the author’s descriptions of love and music leave a lovely ache.

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I just stood, watching him, listening to the melody he hummed. Even without words, it haunted me–filled the room and everything in it. The visions it gave me: they were dark, but beautiful. They took me out of the cellar, up to the rooftops at night on the lower East side, down into the subway, onto the tracks, and into the tunnels. They brought me deep into the city, deeper than anyone can ever really go: into its heart.

Can you miss someone before they’re gone, when they’re still smiling up at you with closed eyes, and their beautiful face, with its deep-set eyes and two days of beard, is rolling slowly between your knees?

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I was drawn in by Brooklyn, Burning in ways that I never expected, but was so touched to find. This is a brave and unique story, and as unlikely as it might seem, I know I’d be hard pressed to find a book written this year that has more toughness and heart and spirit and beauty than this one.

Release Date: September 2011

Rated 4 out of 5 stars

30-Second Synopsis: A difficult and beautiful coming of age story about a boy/girl living on the streets who must deal with love and loss and difficult relationships. An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.

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