Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Brooklyn Story

By Suzanne Corso
New York, Gallery Books, 2011
322 pages     Fiction

Suzanne Corso came of age in the 1970s in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn, but like many teenagers, she dreamed of getting out. The Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan became her symbol of freedom and new life. She has created a novelized version of herself in Brooklyn Story, the story of Samantha Bonti, half-Italian and half-Jewish, living among the Italians mobsters of Bensonhurst. 

Samantha has dreams; she is a talented writer with an old Smith-Corona typewriter. Although her home life is anything but ideal, she receives support from her high school English teacher and the neighborhood priest. Both encourage her to move beyond the neighborhood and fulfill her dreams. Daily, she writes of her life experiences, her elderly grandmother, her bitter drug and alcohol-addicted mother, her school, and her friends. 

Like all girls, she yearns for a boyfriend, and Tony Kroon, a teenaged mobster with a car and money, is more than she expects, and probably more than she can handle. He chooses her because she is young and innocent, and she revels in the way he seems to adore her. She is so under his spell that she has to ignore a lot of warning signs: the way he wants to know where she is all the time; the “meetings” he always has to go to in the evenings; the money, fancy car, and motorcycle he has; his tendency to be abusive. While she knows that this is the way of the neighborhood, she chafes at the rigidness of the relationship. She is able to rationalize Tony’s behavior, willing herself to be in love with him, until he becomes abusive enough that she realizes she must remove herself from the situation or all her dreams of the future will be lost. 

Brooklyn Story has a great first line, “Some people lived in the real world and others lived in Brooklyn.” The brief review in the New York Times also acknowledges the unique voice of the author. “Young Italian-Americans in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, in the late 1970s fall in with the mob to become men. As familiar as the story is, this novel escapes the formula with a true female voice….Maybe it’s because we don’t usually get our Mafia fix from the point of view of a young girl who wants to be somebody, but this Brooklyn story overcomes even the numerous times when Samantha’s heart is said to “’skip a beat’.”

In telling the story of Samantha, Corso reveals how easy it is for young women to fall into the trap of “true love” and end up in restrictive, abusive relationships. How often we have heard battered women say that they wouldn’t press charges because “he loves me; he won’t do it again.” Corso emphasizes how easy it is to rationalize relationships and how hard it is to end destructive relationships, particularly in close-knit, insular communities.

The real value of Brooklyn Story is in its emphasis on resilience, hope, and redemption. Samantha has a vision for herself that does not include living in Bensonhurst forever. She has an encouraging grandmother, a mentor in her high school English teacher, and a spiritual guide in the neighborhood priest. All help her find her true voice and help her move “over the bridge” to a productive adult life.

USA Today named Suzanne Corso one of the New Voices of 2011. Here is their story:
Suzanne Corso’s website:

I received Brooklyn Story from the publisher, and I would recommend it to young adult readers.

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