Originally reviewed on my blog, Books from Bleh to Basically Amazing
Brooklyn Story by Suzanne Corso is the story of Samantha, a young girl growing up in Brooklyn in the late 1970s, desperate to escape across the bridge into what she knows will be a better life. But then, at 15, she meets Tony, a local Brooklyn Boy with ties to the local mob.
I was intrigued by the idea of this book, but unsure what to expect. The book mirrors experiences in the authors own life- growing up in Brooklyn and living through an abusive relationship. The last book I read that took inspiration from the authors personal life was probably my worst read thus far in 2010, so I was a little worried about this story. I must say, I was very pleasantly surprised by how this story turned out.
The issues that Samantha is dealing with during this story- poverty, crime, drug abuse, abusive relationships etc- are something I have never had any experience with. My childhood is split between small town Western Washington and rural Conservative Southern Idaho. I don't know of anything that's farther removed from the life described here in the Italian section of Brooklyn. There were times when I felt the narrative to be overly wordy and detailed, but it enabled me to experience some small part of what life must have been like for Samantha. Although it never felt quite real to me, it was obviously real to Samantha.
I also really enjoyed the lyrics from popular songs that Samantha felt spoke to her at one time or another. I love old music and was pleased by how many of the songs I recognized and like.
My one major complaint with this story is the narrative voice. The story begins with 19 year old Samantha walking into a court room where Tony is waiting to be sentenced. We are then taken back with her to the summer she was 15 when she met Tony and the story is told from there, until the final chapters when she is again 19 and discussing the end of this stage in her life. But, I never felt like the narrative could have been written by a 19 year old. I'm still pretty close to 19 myself, and this is not how we talk. Samantha spends the entire book focused on and dedicated to her writing, so it makes sense that it would be more mature than the average 19 year old, but I still felt more like I was reading the writing of someone closer to 30. Which is fine, because I am, but it never felt quite... right.
And then there is Samantha herself. She is a pretty strong character with a firm sense for her goals, but I was completely amazed at how incredibly naive she was. I understand that she was 15, and very inexperienced with boys, but I couldn't believe how much she willfully misunderstood. It amazed me the power we have to rationalize and justify almost any action. It's a little scary how easy Samantha found herself sucked into an abusive and scary situation, willing to explain and will away nearly everything Tony was doing to her. The was the author writes makes it seem like these abusive and unhealthy relationships are the norm in Brooklyn, and this saddens me more than I can possibly say. No one deserves to be treated like garbage.
Overall, this is a story I think is worth reading. Samantha is a strong character who knows what she wants and really does work hard to attain that. There were a few times when I didn't feel like her character was totally consistent, but she's also 15 and exploring new things for the first time. I was also a little confused by Tony's behavior. Without trying to give spoilers away, it sometimes seemed like what he said and what he did were completely unconnected, like violently claiming her as a possession, but allowing her to remove him from her life.
Regardless of any complaints I had with the story or writing (which were not enough to diminish my enjoyment of the story), I'm impressed with Ms. Corso for writing this story. Given the parallels between her own life, I imagine it must have been really hard. I watched a short video of her talking about her book, and she said she wrote it so that women could take away from it the knowledge that it is always possible to leave, always possible to get yourself out of a bad situation. She hopes that women who find themselves in this kind of trouble take heart and comfort in knowing there is more out there for them, and that I think is an amazing thing to give to a woman. Here's to hoping that it works.