Thursday, March 17, 2022

Book Review: Nightcrawling

Kiara and her brother, Marcus, are barely scraping by in a squalid East Oakland apartment complex optimistically called the Regal-Hi. Both have dropped out of high school, their family fractured by death and prison. But while Marcus clings to his dream of rap stardom, Kiara hunts for work to pay their rent—which has more than doubled—and to keep the nine-year-old boy next door, abandoned by his mother, safe and fed. One night, what begins as a drunken misunderstanding with a stranger turns into the job Kiara never imagined wanting but now desperately needs: nightcrawling. And her world breaks open even further when her name surfaces in an investigation that exposes her as a key witness in a massive scandal within the Oakland Police Department.

Full of edge, raw beauty, electrifying intensity, and piercing vulnerability, Nightcrawling marks the stunning arrival of a voice unlike any we have heard before. This debut novel by Leila Mottley comes out on June 7, 2022. Knopf Doubleday Publishing provided me an early galley in exchange for an honest review.

First off, I have major respect for the author. Not only was she an Oakland Youth Poet Laureate in 2018, she wrote this novel when she was just seventeen years old. I remember my own writing aspirations at that age (still have those unfinished works I toyed with at that time in my filing cabinet); what she has achieved was something I could only dream about when I was her age. I have made respect for Mottley for writing something so real, so topical and so powerful at such an age. I can only imagine what the future holds for her.

Kiara's story is so far removed from my own worldview, but I know that is not the case for so many young people of color growing up in the 21st century. This novel will resonate with a younger generation, but it might also serve as an eye-opening to so many others as well. Mottley does not shy away from harsh realities, even when she is balancing the truths about urban lifestyles with her beautifully descriptive writing style.

In some ways, this novel reminds me of Manchild in The Promised Land by Claude Brown, published in 1965. That coming-of-age novel detailed urban life in Harlem during the 1950's. We read that novel when I was a high school student in the 1980's (at age seventeen no less). The two share some common themes even though they were written close to six decades apart. Looking at the two together, it reminds me of how far things have come and yet how far things still have to go.

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