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First Look Club: Jowana reviews Brown Girls by Daphne Palasi Andreades

First Look Club: Jowana reviews Brown Girls by Daphne Palasi Andreades


By Daphne Palasi Andreades

Publication date: January 4, 2022

Reviewed by Jowana Bueser

Some stories have bold opening lines that alert readers they are in for a special treat. In her debut novel, Daphne Palasi Andreades introduces her readers to “the dregs of Queens, New York, where airplanes fly so low that we are certain, they will crush us.” She continues to familiarize us with the faces and places we will meet as the story progresses. By the time the chapter ends, we have touched the branches of the lonely tree that tangles with the power lines, met the stubborn grandmothers who refuse to use a cane, and see the harsh gold chains of the Italian boys in the neighborhood.

Generous and confident, Andreades gifts us with another set of memorable sentences in the succeeding chapter: “If you want to know, we are the color of 7-Eleven root beer. The color of sand at Rockaway Beach when blisters the bottoms of our feet. Color of soil. Color of the charcoal pencil our sisters use to rim their eyes. Color of grilled hamburger patties. Color of our mother’s darkest thread, which she loops through the needle. Color of peanut butter.” 

Divided into eight parts and 50-plus short chapters, “Brown Girls” is a coming-of-age story of a group of brown-skinned girls living in Queens. There is no one narrator, but rather a collection of narrators — the aforementioned girls. They are children of immigrants from various countries (yes, including the Philippines) and have many stories to tell. 

One of the things you will notice throughout the book is the intentional repetition of “brown girls.” The author repeats it thrice (“brown girls brown girls brown girls”) at the start of a chapter for emphasis, style, and texture. Emphasizing brown girls makes sense since it is the most crucial element of the story: the characters have steeled themselves and forged a bond on the strength and vulnerability of their skin color and gender. 

Told linearly from childhood up until the afterlife — hold up. That is not a spoiler. Trust me. “Brown Girls” is an almost plotless coming-of-age tale. Plotless but not aimless, each chapter marks their dreams and delusions, successes and failures, enlightenment and confusion, and happiness and heartbreaks. 

The palpable honesty of the short descriptive scenes can only be rooted in real-life experience. Two vignettes stand out the most: an episode in their classroom and a trip back to their motherlands. “Our teachers call on Nadira but stare at Anjali. Our teachers tell Michaela to come to the board and answer number three and make sure you show your marker to Naz. We stand when our names are called, and our teachers halt, confused.” Littered throughout the book are microaggressions — like mistaking a brown girl for another “because they all look the same to them” — that are all too familiar to immigrants. 

Returning to their motherlands brought about one of the finest realizations, “Why did we ever believe home could only be one place when existing in these bodies means holding many worlds within us.” Brown girls can dream, but must also fulfill their duties to their families. Brown girls can master the “Boulevard of Death” at a young age, but are still minors and need protection from catcalls and harassment. Brown girls can fantasize about brown boys, but may marry white boys. Brown girls can succeed, but they can also spectacularly fail. 

Andreades cannot emphasize it enough: like her debut novel, brown girls brown girls brown girls contain multitudes.

Jowana applied as a research assistant for Hogwarts but was rejected because her natural sarcasm is considered a form of dark arts. She has since harnessed her powers working as a social media manager for almost a decade. Books keep her calm from the madness and the sameness of life. You can find her on Twitter @jowanabueser.

[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]

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