Welcome to Queens, New York, where streets echo with languages from all over the globe, subways rumble above dollar stores, trees bloom and topple over sidewalks, and the funky scent of the Atlantic Ocean wafts in from Rockaway Beach. Within one of New York City’s most vibrant and eclectic boroughs, young women of color like Nadira, Gabby, Naz, Trish, Angelique, and countless others, attempt to reconcile their immigrant backgrounds with the American culture in which they come of age. Here, they become friends for life—or so they vow.
... brash and talky ... achieves immediate liftoff ... It’s a treat, always, to read language that’s excited about itself. You wonder if Andreades will be able to keep it up over the course of a novel. If she doesn’t, not quite, she comes close enough that she has put herself immediately on the radar screen ... Andreades dryly, and deftly, sets up the conversations that ensue ... 'Brown girls, brown girls, brown girls,' the author likes to repeat. She uses these repetitions for effect, relishing the words the way Chris Rock does in his comedy, pacing the stage ... Andreades’s writing has economy and freshness. Brown Girls reads as much like poetry as it does like a novel, which is another way of saying: Don’t arrive here expecting a good deal of plot ... The chapters are short, ramekin-size. The novel always seems to be stopping and starting over ... This quality can relieve Andreades of doing the hard work of exploring character, or ideas, in real depth ... fearless.
Andreades’s descriptive writing is glorious, with a confidence one might expect from a veteran novelist ... While there is much that many brown girls will relate to — including experiences that feel stolen straight from my memories — Andreades succeeds in making the stories feel specific beyond a singular experience ... Readers become part of scenes where the fourth wall is not only broken but shattered ... Andreades doesn’t shy away from topics that sting ... Those who grew up going to predominantly white schools, and eventually working in predominantly white spaces — anyone who is familiar with being the darkest person in the room — will feel seen. For readers who want to understand that experience, Brown Girls will walk you through the journey ... Andreades delivers her story to a place that can feel either life-affirming or depressing, depending on how you look at it ... reads like spoken-word poetry and makes you feel as if you should be sitting in the basement of Cafe Wha? in New York’s West Village, wearing a black beret and sunglasses and snapping your fingers along with the beat of the social commentary. Ultimately, though, Andreades’s choice to write in short pieces, with some 'chapters' clocking in at only two pages, proves tedious. I never felt quite connected to the characters, and they didn’t feel as connected to one another as lifelong friends should be. For some, the truth of our lived experience may be more palatable in small appetizer portions. But with their breadth, depth and enormous richness, I found myself wanting to savor these raw stories on a large, overflowing plate.
The eponymous brown girls of Andreades’s debut novel are all the girls in the world who are not white, and the author uses the collective “we” to tell the tale as a group experience ... Highly recommended.