WHISPER NETWORKS. The Greek muses. Immigrant aunties. Women, in groups, are loud and gripping storytellers. Daphne Palasi Andreades’ debut Brown Girls confirms this. In eight immersive sections, the novel chronicles the coming-of-age of the titular brown girls, mainly second-generation immigrants raised in the “dregs of Queens” (N.Y.).With the first-person plural narration, we follow a chorus that aims to reclaim the voices they lost at various junctures in their lives. After all, what demands a shout if not systemic silence?
The brown girls experience erasure early. Their teachers mistake Michaela for Naz, Nadira for Anjali. They snap at Sophie who is Filipino, but call her Mae, who is Chinese. To mold themselves into girls who are worthy of visibility, the brown girls begin to erase themselves. They lighten their skin. They quiet their rage. After middle school, education takes some of them away from Queens. They wrestle with the changes it brings. “Dutifully, we reposition our tongues,” they tell us. “Even in song, we become fluent in the language of our colonizers. Our English, impeccable. Our mother tongues, if we were taught them at all, become atrophied muscles, half-remembered melodies.”