Everywhere You Don’t Belong

Algonquin. Jan. 2020. 272p. ISBN 9781616208790. $25.95. F
DEBUT “I want to know who I am!” exclaims Claude McKay Love in this pointedly affecting debut novel, which opens in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood. Claude is a nerdy, timid outsider, raised by a sharp-tongued grandma from the civil rights movement who will do anything, even burn her beloved Dennis Rodman cardboard cutout, to expunge Claude’s unhappiness after his parents vanish, and he’s aware that his family expects great things of him, though he doesn’t yet know whether he can deliver. Meanwhile, he considers his options, wondering whether he should stay or leave, as any young person might. That should be enough, but the simple act of trying out choices takes on a sharper edge when you’re from a community shaped by the legacy of racism and beset by police brutality and street toughs who terrorize the protagonists yet are themselves trying to understand where they belong. After a deadly riot, Claude’s effort to find himself carries him to college in Missouri, where he’s joined by sort-of girlfriend Janice and works on the student newspaper. Yet he can’t escape being defined by others as African American, instead of just as Claude, and again flees violence with Janice toward a place they might belong.
VERDICT With deft writing and rat-a-tat, laugh-until-you-gasp-at-the-implications dialog, Bump delivers a singular sense of growing up black that will resonate with readers. [See Prepub Alert, 7/1/19.]
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