Something that author Jacqueline Woodson echoes throughout her novel Another Brooklyn is the concept of “growing up girl.” What it means to grow up girl, how race and poverty intersect with that, how it bonds you with others who are also growing up girl. I really loved the language of this; it was as though Woodson was creating a verb out of an experience. Another Brooklyn is a collection of experiences, some autobiographical and others fictionalized, all about growing up girl.
Some of the experiences Woodson uses as examples of this concept she calls growing up girl are wholesome and heartwarming, while others reveal some of the darker aspects of girlhood. One of the lighter aspects is the deep sense of friendship that can come out of the shared experiences of girls coming of age. The love and sense of community that August finds in Sylvia, Gigi, and Angela is incredibly touching and reminds me of the friendships I cherished deeply in the middle school era of my life. These girls help each other navigate Bushwick and puberty and they defend each other fiercely. The 2014 French film Girlhood is very similar to Another Brooklyn in that it follows a young black girl who is living in an impoverished area who is brought out of her shell by three neighborhood girls. Both Woodson’s novel and the film place a strong emphasis on friendship and the ways in which having a community helps in the coming of age process.
One of the darker aspects of growing up girl according to the novel is the way in which girls are sexualized at a very young age. When the girls started to mature physically “something about the curve of [their] lips and the sway of [their] heads suggested more to strangers than [they] understood” (74). The undesired attention from men is an insidious part of growing up girl, forcing children to become conscious of the way in which adults watch them with predatory eyes. Gigi’s sexual assault is an obvious example of the terrors that face girls, especially those that are growing up in a bustling urban area like New York City. Though what happened to Gigi was tragic, her friends have her back and even go with her to purchase razor blades, seeming to me like a perfect metaphor for girlhood; sharp edges might slice you, but you can learn to fight back.
Adults often wish to decide what media children should be allowed to view. One of the most popular forms of censorship has been, for ages, banning books that are deemed to be inappropriate for youths due to controversial subject matter. One of these books is Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street.
The novel was published in 1984 and is a coming of age story with autobiographical elements. It follows Esperanza, a Chicana teenager struggling with growing up in an impoverished neighborhood, and it gives the reader a glimpse into the ways in which the cross-section of race and poverty affect adolescents during the turbulent time of puberty and the navigation of young-adulthood. The choice to ban this book does a great disservice to other Latino youths who may be growing up in a similar situation, or to any youths living in a family faced with economic instability. Though it is likely that school boards who decided to ban this novel were doing so in protest of exposing young adults to the themes of sexuality and sexual assault rather than the issues of poverty and race, they still chose to take a book with a valuable perspective out of their libraries.
Additionally, it is foolish to censor discussion of sexual assault among youth; creating a taboo around talking about something horrific encourages survivors of this type of behavior to keep silent about what they have gone through. Students who read The House on Mango Street may recognize the struggle Esperanza goes through when she is assaulted at the fair after being ditched by Sally and decide that it is time for them to come forward about their abuse. It could help someone struggling with how they come back from assault to find new ways to move forward. Just simply seeing the representation of something like this happening to another young adult could help inspire someone who is feeling alone.
The House on Mango Street offers valuable perspectives that can be useful to any young adult, whether they are Latino or not, whether they have been sexually assaulted or not, whether they grew up impoverished or not; the novel helps to inform readers of experiences in certain parts of the population and being exposed to these experiences that may differ from their own can help make youths more compassionate and understanding of the issues of others.