Brooklyn, Burning by Steve Brezenoff

Brooklyn BurningBrooklyn, Burning by Steven Brezenoff (Carolrhoda Books, 1 September 2011)

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It’s summer in Brooklyn, and summer, for Kid, is the season of freedom and music and love. Last summer, Kid fell in love with Felix. This summer, someone new appears: Scout. Scout arrives in Brooklyn, holding a flyer that Kid and Felix once made and asking for Felix. But Felix is gone. And as the summer goes on and Kid falls in love again, the truth about what happened—with Felix, with the warehouse that for a time was Kid and Felix’s home but has recently been burnt down—gradually comes out.

BROOKLYN, BURNING did not really affect me as much as I thought it would. For one thing, the novel is quite disjointed. It’s very short, coming in at under 200 pages. I found it hard to get into; I started it several times and had to give up because the beginning just did not hold my attention. I did finally manage to read the whole book, but because it’s so short, by the time I actually got into it, it was already almost over.

Still, I do find this book interesting for several reasons. I think this is the first book about homeless youth I’ve read (if I’ve read any other ones, I don’t remember them). Brezenoff appreciates the fact that homeless youth are disproportionately LGBTQ, and this is represented in the novel and mentioned in the Author’s Notes at the end. BROOKLYN, BURNING is also one of the few books out there where the gender of the narrator isn’t explicit, and neither is the gender of the love interest. (The only other I can think of is David Levithan’s THE LOVER’S DICTIONARY.) Brezenoff pulls this off with remarkable skill. He uses the first person, and addresses the love interest as “you”. The names of both characters are also gender neutral (“Kid” and “Scout”). There is one bit in the book which suggests that the narrator is genderqueer/non-binary—when Kid’s father says, disparagingly, “I’ve got the only kid I know who doesn’t know whether to be straight or gay or a girl or a boy or what.” However, this is of course coming from someone else, and the book never tells us what gender Kid actually identifies as. I’m inclined to go with genderqueer because I think that reflects how Kid is written and the themes of the book. Kid is also shown as attracted to people regardless of their gender in the book, so they’re probably bi/pan.

I do like Brezenoff’s prose; it's lyrical, reads smoothly and has its glimmering moments of beauty. But on the whole, the book is just too short and even at its length, it meanders with no real purpose or momentum. I don’t think it digs deep enough into the issues of its subject matter. Just a few hours after finishing the book, the only impression it’s left on me is one of a hazy dream, barely recollected upon waking. I wouldn’t be averse to reading more of Brezenoff’s work, however, because I know he can write. I’m just not sure there was enough material in BROOKLYN, BURNING to sustain a whole novel rather than, say, a short story.

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