When the synopsis of “The Hungry Ones” says that the city is alive, that is 100% not hyperbole. Gomel has crafted a semi-cyberpunk dystopian where the city itself is a sentient being where the poor, the outcasts, all live on the lowest levels, and the elite high above the labyrinth in glittering towers of flesh and bone. Where the humans of the city have ‘arms that are sentient whip-like weapons embedded in their palms, and the living brain of the city births’ its own odd looking residents. Some of whom are inanimate objects brought to life, like yarn balls or traffic cones. It sounds vaguely funny, but this book is anything but—in a good way. “The Hungry Ones” is a literary fiction, fantasy horror ride that follows a woman who can’t remember who she is, but has a devastating power that can both stop the zombie-like Hungry Ones plaguing the city, and potentially save the city from a looming war with the country. This book was full of disturbing imagery, unexpected twists, and also beautifully written.
This book is beautifully painful, and often painfully beautiful, and no, that’s not the same thing. This is my first foray into Schwab, which might be weird considering that I own pretty much all her books, but they stare at me in open judgement as I slowly, ever so slowly, whittle down my TBR, and then sometimes throw that out the window with books like this. All this to say, I didn’t entirely know what to expect from this author, or this book, just that I admire Schwab and her candor, and therefore auto-buy her books. So I can’t say if this is always Schwab’s voice, but my goodness, the PAIN that she manages to stuff into her main characters cut me deeply. This is such a millennial book, and I mean that in a good way. It often feels that millennials, more than other generations, suffer from this panic and anxiety driven desire to be enough, to do enough, to leave a mark, to be remembered, and then you bundle that up with the very uniquely human drive to avoid death, where we are never ready for the end… This book spoke to me on a level where I felt seen and heard, even though Schwab was doing all the talking.
“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.
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