Knopf. Jun. 2022. 288p. ISBN 9780593318935 28. $28. F
DEBUT Much of the discussion around Mottley’s first novel is sure to focus on the author’s age—17 when she began writing, currently attending college—but this is a forceful work even outside of this remarkable context. Following high-school dropout Kiara, on the cusp of 18 and living with her brother Marcus, who aspires to rap stardom, Mottley’s narrative charts the myriad tragedies that scar this young woman as she struggles to care for those she loves, all the while becoming mired in a police misconduct scandal. It’s a work of devastating social realism but cut through with a strain of pulp fiction—or perhaps more accurately, it acknowledges the pulpish shape of so many modern American realities—and it’s executed with relentless momentum, built of purely dramatic moments and steeped in emotions that are wrung from characters as if they were wet rags. As a result, there’s a certain melodramatic texture, and the construction of narrative incident can sometimes feel a bit inelegant. But it’s held together by Mottley’s singular voice, rife with frequent poetic flourishes and almost impatient with energy.
VERDICT Undeniably bleak but littered with small beauties and a powerful discourse on the dehumanizing effects policing can have on marginalized communities, bodies, and minds (and especially on Black women). Mottley’s novel understands that sometimes a happy ending just means surviving.
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