Two Cents Plain: My Brook­lyn Boyhood

  • Review
By – September 1, 2011
Mar­tin Lemelman’s rich graph­ic mem­oir is based on his rec­ol­lec­tions of grow­ing up in a Brook­lyn, New York neigh­bor­hood in the 1950’s and 60’s. Draw­ing on mem­o­ries and record­ings of his moth­er and father (see his oth­er graph­ic mem­oir, Mendel’s Daugh­ters), Two Cents Plain traces Lemelman’s path to man­hood. His restrained images give the book its soul; with a com­bi­na­tion of spare draw­ings, arti­facts, and pho­tographs, he evokes intense feel­ings of nos­tal­gia.

Lemelman’s sto­ry, while not unique, does con­tain tru­ly unique ele­ments. He grew up in a typ­i­cal Brook­lyn Jew­ish neigh­bor­hood, where his par­ents and broth­er ran a can­dy store, Teddy’s Can­dy Store,” which was stocked with com­ic books, nov­el­ty toys, fake engage­ment rings, light bulbs, a vari­ety of strange items, and a deli­cious egg cream made behind the counter. But as the years passed, the neigh­bor­hood changed dra­mat­i­cal­ly and the Jew­ish” stores began to dis­ap­pear. By 1968, with Teddy’s as the last Jew­ish” store on the block, Lemelman’s world was altered for­ev­er when a black youth robbed the store by hold­ing a knife to Lemelman’s mother’s throat.

Through Lemelman’s strong nar­ra­tive voice and spare images, Two Cents Plain is a haunt­ing and unfor­get­table black and white encounter with the past.
Gary Katz received an MA in Eng­lish from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Nebras­ka-Oma­ha. He is the library admin­is­tra­tor for the Krip­ke Jew­ish Fed­er­a­tion Library in Oma­ha, Nebras­ka, one of the largest Judaica libraries in the Unit­ed States.

Discussion Questions