“Riot Baby” isn’t really about Ella and her magical “Thing”, nor is it about, as the synopsis suggests, the revolution for racial equality in this barely alternate and vaguely more futuristic version of America. I say that because the events that define Kev—the actual Riot Baby—like the LA riot of 1992, and the police brutality aimed primarily at Black communities is all very real, and in Ella and Kev’s world, only taken to a slightly bigger level by the futuristic technology and weaponry the police use to terrorize these communities. This book is really about the anger felt with structural racism and brutality shown through the lens of an intimate family view of those who suffer under such conditions. Ella, her mom, and brother Kev are all just trying to live, but that becomes almost impossible with how America treats its Black citizens. This book is written in such a beautiful, raw, and angry tone which demands readers to confront systematic racial injustice head on. This novella evokes so many emotions and is crafted in really a magnificent way—Onyebuchi is a masterful writer! But story wise? I had a really hard time connecting.
Reviewing non-fiction books is hard. You can’t just say “I didn’t like the story”—I’m not saying that—because the story isn’t up for debate: it happened, these people existed. “Devil in the White City” is about the Chicago’s World Fair and all the trouble it faced prior, and during it’s opening, as well as all the innovations the fair gave rise to that we still enjoy today. It’s also about the serial killer Dr. H.H. Holmes who happened to be “working” in Chicago during the time of the fair’s construction, opening, and closing. Holmes didn’t explicitly go to Chicago to take advantage of the fair in order to do his dark deeds, that seems more coincidental as Holmes was already in Chicago at the time and continued his “work” after leaving Chicago as well. So, really, the two events are barely connected and what you get is two different books in one. Are both good and fascinating? Sure. Does Larson have a wonderful ability for maintaining suspense and keeping the reader engaged in both stories? Yes. Was this what I was expecting when I bought this book? No.
“Zone 23” is, quite frankly, unlike any other dystopian novel I have ever read. Written as a satirical version of utopia, this novel follows two, well, mostly two, people who are having their eyes opened, their thoughts expanded, and are seeing the world for what it truly is—maybe—for the first time in their lives, or at least a very long time. We follow Taylor who lives out in the Zone, outcast from society as he is deemed undesirable (more on that in a minute) and Valentina, who just so desperately wants to be Normal and to have a Normal baby and to live her Normal life—there is a reason for the caps. The narrative voice of this novel is just wonderful and, really, that’s what you’d read this book for: Hopkins satirical narration. Because otherwise the plot of this book is pretty simplistic and wouldn’t necessitate the 500 pages it takes to complete this story. However, this is an EXTREMELY good read, albeit a difficult one.
“Dating a Chance” is a—extremely—literary work of mystery. Simply, the story is about the seemingly freakish deaths of a prominent scientist and a few people close to him shortly thereafter. J-L (yes, that is his name) was working on manipulating particles at a quantum level in order to create positive outcomes. Essentially: fabricating good luck and fortune (kind of Like the X-Force team member Domino). But his untimely death leaves the research almost lost, and while some of J-L’s colleagues begin hunting for his missing notes, others begin wondering if his random death was all that accidental, as those close to J-L also begin dying under mysterious circumstances as well. Professor Brown and his chess partner Steve begin the hunt for the truth in what is a high-brow and unique twist on a murder mystery novel. However, this interesting premise was often lost in the authors’ narration.
“The Point of Me” is definitely one of those reads you have to be in the right mood for given it’s rather heavy subject matter. The story follows James, a young teenager who is diagnosed with cancer. What follows is in part a tale of how such a devastating diagnosis affects him and his family, and is in part a purple-prose spirit journey that delves into a metaphysical fantasy realm, that could, theoretically, be interpreted as a sick young man’s fevered dreams while the various cancer treatments course through his veins. Davidson pens an incredibly beautiful story, one that covers a devastating topic, while trying to offer some hope to both her characters, and those who may be dealing with what James and his family are experiencing. But for as important of a topic as this is, it is a pretty slow read.
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