The Latest

THE LATEST

THE LATEST THINKING

THE LATEST THINKING

The opinions of THE LATEST’s guest contributors are their own.

'Halsey Street': A Good Read

Ellen Levitt

Posted on April 20, 2020 11:47

0 user

A review of 'Haley Street' by Naima Coster. It's a novel based primarily in modern Brooklyn, with flashbacks and excursions to the Dominican Republic.

I'm a picky reader of modern fiction, so when I enjoy a book and actually feel it's worth recommending, take note, folks. Halsey Street is the debut novel by Naima Coster, and it's a very good read with sharp commentary on family dynamics and modern life, particularly gentrification in Brooklyn and New York City.

Penelope Grand is under 30, and not too happy with her life. She's a talented but underachieving artist who doesn't seem rooted, indulges in one-night stands, and has superficial relationships with her peers. But when her father Ralph is ailing, she leaves Pittsburgh, her home for a few years, and returns to the Bed-Stuy, the Brooklyn neighborhood of her youth. She gets a long-term subbing job at the elementary school she herself attended, finds a nearby apartment, and visits her dad frequently.

Her mother Mirella had abandoned Penelope and Ralph a few years earlier but then mails them a cryptic postcard from the Dominican Republic, her homeland to which she has returned.

The three main characters, as well as Penelope's sort-of boyfriend Jon, are fascinating, complex and sympathetic characters. They are all prickly at turns, and each has a lot of baggage with which they wrestle. But I enjoyed their interactions, and their story lines are very interesting, at times moving and painful, occasionally laugh-out-loud funny.

I have more criticism about several of the secondary characters, many of whom are too stereotypical for my tastes (such as the shallow hipster landlord couple with whom Penelope lives for several months), and the tragic death of one major character brings a rapid end to the story, which doesn't resolve in a neat fashion.

But a major factor in the story is Brooklyn itself, especially Bed-Stuy. Coster writes knowingly and critically about Bed-Stuy now, which has become highly gentrified. The problems of gentrification, the haves and have-nots of the neighborhood, and the underlying friction between people of different races and socio-economic groups, are major factors in Halsey Street. Bed-Stuy past and present are keeping Penelope constantly on edge and unnerved.

One of the reasons I selected this book was that it was about Bed-Stuy; I work near by and have written about it, as in this article. Bed-Stuy has more than one past but has largely been linked with the African-American community (before that it was heavily Jewish). Halsey Street, in this book and in real life, has seen a lot of change and the block becomes a symbol of contested identity. Penelope had wanted to escape Halsey Street, but she is inevitably drawn back and even comes home to live there.

Overall the narrative flows and pulls you in, and the realistic tone and touches make you ponder what motivates the characters and their choices. The subject of mother-daughter relationships and misunderstandings is also explored at length, which appealed to me, as the mother of two teenage daughters. 

Halsey Street is a good, solid read. 

Ellen Levitt

Posted on April 20, 2020 11:47

Comments

comments powered by Disqus
THE LATEST THINKING

Webisode

Meet Tammie Wilson, Director of Administration at THE LATEST

Video Site Tour

The Latest
The Latest

Subscribe to THE LATEST Newsletter.

The Latest
The Latest

Share this TLT through...

The Latest