By Leila Mottley
Knopf, 9780593318935, June 2022, 288pp.
The Short of It:
Gritty, but at times lovely.
The Rest of It:
This story unfolds in layers, slowly revealing the beauty at its heart. I have a confession to make though. I finished this book in the midst of all my health stuff and totally forgot to review it. In an attempt to do right by the author, I am writing it now but I finished it early March so I will do my best to recall all the details.
A dazzling novel about a young Black woman who walks the streets of Oakland and stumbles headlong into the failure of its justice system. ~ Indiebound
Kiara and her brother Marcus are doing their best not to get thrown out of their run down apartment in East Oakland. After their mother is sent away for something she did, Kiara frantically tries to rally her brother into getting a job to help pay the rent. Kiara, being a minor, worries every second about being taken away by social services. The only reason she was allowed to stay is because Marcus is of age. But Marcus is far from able to raise Kiara. His lofty ideas on how to make money, which include becoming a famous musician, haven’t panned out and he is reluctant to do actual work. Plus, drugs enter the mix which complicate things.
In addition to caring for herself, she’s trying to keep her nine-year-old neighbor fed and safe when his mother abandons him. This includes paying his rent when she can so that he doesn’t get evicted either. Without a steady stream of income, she can barely do this and no one else seems to be stepping up to help so out of desperation, she begins streetwalking. What begins with one or two paid “favors” quickly becomes something else when local law enforcement wants favors in return for keeping Kiara out of jail. Without a pimp, Kiara has little say in what’s being asked of her. She doesn’t want to end up in jail but she also doesn’t want to end up dead.
My book club read this a couple of months back and had mixed feelings about it. East Oakland is a depressing place. It seemed like everything that could go wrong for Kiara did, but there was also this sense of ownership that she possessed and for that, I had a lot of respect for her character. Oakland, riddled with problems as it was, was still her home. She never gave up on the city. I respected how she carried herself in such a mature way, given that she was just a child herself.
Many things will frustrate you about her situation but there are beautiful moments too. The author was just seventeen herself when this book was written. Unbelievable! Such maturity along with a sense of place. I really liked these characters and highly recommend it.
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