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This reading group guide forBrooklyn Story includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Suzanne Corso. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Brooklyn Story is the engaging coming-of-age story about Samantha Bonti, a teenage girl growing up in 1970s Brooklyn. An aspiring writer with dreams to someday leave her Bensonhurst community and dysfunctional home life for a new life in Manhattan, Samantha struggles to stay true to herself when she begins a relationship with Anthony Kroon, a “Brooklyn Boy” trying to break into the Brooklyn mafia scene. The devilishly handsome Tony sweeps Samantha off her feet—and into his world of violence, lies, and crime. As her relationship with Tony grows increasingly volatile, Samantha struggles to stay true to her beliefs until her writing can finally pull her across the East River and away from her tumultuous past.
TOPICS AND QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Brooklyn Story opens with a Sunnata Vagga quote about coming to peace with abuse by letting go of anger, which says, “Fury will never end fury, it will just ricochet on and on. Only putting it down will end such an abysmal state.” Do you agree with the passage’s message? Was Samantha able to truly let go of her anger and move on?
2. One of the recurring tropes throughout the story is crossing bridges, either physical or metaphorical. Can you think of any bridges you’ve had to cross in your own life? Could the transition from adolescence into adulthood, with all its trials, be considered one such universal bridge?
3. Samantha begins her story by stating, “Some people lived in the real world and others lived in Brooklyn.” Where do you think Samantha considers is the “real” world? Do you agree with her?
4. Early on in the novel, Samantha’s grandma instructs her to “Write yourself out of this story and into a better one” (pg. 30). Do you think Samantha accomplishes this by its end? Does leaving for Manhattan begin a completely new story for Sam, or does it start a new chapter in the same tale?
5. At one point, Samantha tells the reader that “Surviving takes its toll, but makes you strong, I learned” (p. 58.) Do you agree with her belief that survival fosters strength? Does surviving her ordeals make Samantha strong, or is she only able to survive due to an inherent strength she has, regardless of circumstance?
6. One of the main topics throughout the book is the influence neighborhoods have on their communities. Samantha remarks that “I couldn’t help thinking that all of us in Bensonhurst were a reflection of the neighborhood in one way or another” (p. 115.) Discuss the dynamic relationship neighborhoods and their residents have. How much does a neighborhood shape its people, and vice versa?
7. From gender roles to class status symbols, the effects of deeply rooted cultural and socioeconomic roles are prevalent throughout Brooklyn Story. Do you think such strict social systems are unique to urban communities or are they prevalent throughout other landscapes? Discuss.
8. Religious conflict between Samantha’s Catholic mom and Jewish grandmother arises throughout the novel, constantly creating tension at home. After both women pass away, they share a gravestone with both a cross and Star of David on it, which Samantha considers emblematic of their ever-clashing views. Do you agree with Sam’s viewpoint, or do you view the joint headstone differently, perhaps as a truce of sorts?
9. Samantha’s relationship with her troubled mother is diametrically different from the one she has with her grandmother. After reading about Samantha’s journey, who do you think had a greater influence on her actions, her mother or her grandmother? Discuss the ways both women shaped Samantha’s actions and beliefs.
10. In addition to the role models in her life, Samantha’s faith is an important anchor for her. She says, “The Blessed Mother’s hand in my life, I knew, was as real and as close to me as the ones of those dear to me in my daily life who touched me” (p. 150.) How much of her faith in herself and strength of character do you think she derives from her spiritual faith? Do you think she would have been able to find that strength to overcome all her adversities without such strong religious convictions?
11. On page 141, Samantha reflects on her relationship with Tony, saying “that was just how it was for me on the Brooklyn side of the bridge. The only thing that was completely in my control was my station in life.” Samantha placed a great emphasis on leaving the physical space of Brooklyn in order to change her station. Do you agree with her that physically leaving Brooklyn and crossing that bridge was the only way she could change her station? How much of that bridge between the two worlds was Samantha’s state of mind?
12. There are several instances of physical and emotional abuse, something Samantha feels very strongly about. After Tony hit her face into the dashboard, Samantha fumes to her best friend, Janice, about what gives men the idea that they can abuse women, to which Janice replies, “We do.” Do you agree with Janice that the women in the story perpetuate the men’s behavior by staying with them despite abusive acts? Explain why or why not.
2. Bring New York to you! Enjoy some quintessential New York treats like pizza, bagels, and New York-style cheesecake during your discussion.
3. Brooklyn and its rich cultural history play a prominent role in the novel. Learn about your hometown’s history, whether through internet searches or visiting your local library!
A CONVERSATION WITH SUZANNE CORSO
You opened the novel with a very moving Sunnata Vagga quote. How did you choose that specific passage to open Brooklyn Story? Is there a particular line from the passage that most resonates with you?
I came across it one day. I believe it was online and then I got “The Pocket Buddah” and to my surprise here was a quote that described my past and I knew from the moment I read it, it had to open my book. I felt as though it was written for me and I can only imagine how many other women felt the same way when they stumbled upon it.
Brooklyn Story is a partial parallel of your experiences growing up in Brooklyn. How much of your own life did you draw on to create Samantha’s story?
Plenty. I absorbed so much growing up in Brooklyn and was so privy to the goings-on and the individuals within my neighborhood that I would just create characters from that and just write. It was therapy to me and the writing became my salvation. Writing came to me at the most crucial time in my childhood. A time when there was no therapy or happy pills to keep you sane, I had my words and they have helped me through; tremendously to this day.
Did you find it challenging to separate your story from Samantha’s? If so, how did you maintain that separation?
YES! It was the hardest thing to do. Every time I sat down to write all I could think about was Suzanne instead of Samantha. It became hard to separate us, however this enabled me to draw upon my past even deeper and write things that I normally would not have. So, I think it was a blessing in disguise drawing so much from me as a person to infuse it into my character. I maintained the separation only when I would look up and see that the name Samantha was on the paper that I was typing, not mine.
You quote a variety of songs throughout Brooklyn Story. Are you a music fan, personally? If so, are your favorite artists similar to the ones Samantha connects with?
My mother was a Woodstock child. She loved the 70’s music and I was so young at the time, that was all I heard and I love it to this day so much. Every time I listen to 70s music my heart fills with joy as well as some sadness over a life I no longer have. For me it’s memories, both good and bad and yes, I love music. It is part of meditation for me, I think it’s one of the greatest silencers we have, just to listen to the music.
Throughout the novel, Samantha finds support and guidance from figures such as Mr. Wainright and Father Rinaldi. Did you have a similar mentor growing up? If so, who?
The truth, no. No one physical that is. My mentor would have the be the Blessed Mother. She guided me when no one else did. There were people here and there, but no one came close to her influence on me. When my mother was always falling apart, when my grandmother took ill and when I was being abused by my boyfriend and I had nowhere to turn. I would go to my spiritual guidance that always helped me through. Sometime the physical beings didn’t understand or get it or me for that matter. I think now they do, I sure hope.
If there is one lesson you’d like readers to take away from Samantha’s story, what would it be? Why?
To always pay attention to whom you are getting involved with. For me it was a man, for others it could be any relationship. I guess the bottom line for me would be, do not let any man abuse you. Abuse comes in many forms. It just sneaks up on you and by that time you are aware of it you so far engulfed in his world, you cannot escape. Abuse can be emotional, physical, mental, etc… Once they do it one time, they will definitely repeat it again, trust me. A man controlling you is not normal. You need to remove yourself from the situation and have faith. Faith will take you exactly where you are supposed to go. Trust the process, it never fails.
You’ve written a variety of works, from screenplays to a children’s book. How does writing an adult novel differ from the other projects? Did you find any challenges unique to the novel-writing process?
You know what is so funny and I highly doubt any author will admit this. I truly think everything I have written before has had no significant impact the way that Brooklyn Story does for me. It is my success, my peace with me. It is the greatest accomplishment for me as a writer. Revealing oneself in words and sharing with others in the desire to help is an achievement which is so great with love and a higher purpose. When I wrote poetry or children’s books I think it was just my stepping stone to get me where I am supposed to be today a novelist and a screenwriter. And no, I love the novel writing process the best. It is certainly for me the most rewarding because you can go on and on and never stop.
In Brooklyn Story, Samantha’s writing mentor, Mr. Wainright, quotes Gene Fowler’s description of the writing process as one where “All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead” (p. 122.) Samantha spends the novel “bleeding” into her work and pouring herself into her stories. If you had to choose, which piece from your own writing would you say you most connect with?
I am torn between my relationship with my mother and my boyfriend in Brooklyn Story. With my mother I could not get. She stayed inside my head as she remains to this day, my boyfriend is gone and so are his evil ways. There is the difference. Every chapter I wrote I would face different feelings. My most “bleeding” onto the page would have to be for her. It was very hard the life with her. I didn’t know which way to turn. I could have very easily taken her path of self destruction but instead chose another with the help of a higher power.
It says on your site, samcorproductions.com, that plans are currently underway for a movie adaptation of Brooklyn Story. How involved are you in the film’s production?
Very. I have written the screenplay and will be a producer on this project. I have wonderful people already attached. An Oscar winner and an Oscar nominee, so I am thrilled. It is now with some major studios and you know how that goes…we wait.
Besides the film, what future projects do you have planned?
Brooklyn Story(Over the Bridge) the sequel, which I am writing now and there very well may be book three. Depends how far Samantha wants to go! Also, a passion of mine is diamonds. I have completed a 3 part book series as well as a screenplay, which takes on one women’s journey into the harsh world of diamonds. I guess growing up poor influenced me to often wonder about possessions that were so far out of my reach such as diamonds, so I created stories surrounding them. I must admit I love these stories. Cannot wait for my future and all the writing I will do!
Suzanne Corso is the author of Brooklyn Story and The Suite Life, as well as two feature film screenplays. She has also produced two documentaries and written one children’s book. She currently lives in New York City.