“Black Girl Unlimited” is the ‘based on a true story’ life of the author herself, with a fantasy-magical realism overlay to everything, especially the traumatic parts. This book is devastating, but not in a bad way, but more in the way of a gifted girl, hating how she looks because she is a dark skinned black girl, believing she is an ugly beast because she isn’t lighter and doesn’t have ‘good hair’, kind of way. It’s heartbreaking to see how she views herself, not to mention watching her family’s struggle with racism, and Echo’s parents being drunks and addicted to cocaine. That’s not to say the book isn’t laced with hope, because it is! But the story is primarily focused on the young Echo and her struggle to survive in a world that has been stacked against her. There are some very heavy topics here alongside the systematic racism Echo faces, such as: drug abuse, sexual assault, and the rape of minors. All of these topics fit with the world Echo lives in, so they aren’t there just for shock value, but if those are sensitive topics for you, be forewarned. This book also happens to be my first foray into magical realism, so it’s very possible that I just don’t “get” certain things, but to me, the magic was more a metaphor then actually, well, magical.
“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.
I kind of love, and miss, the days when super heroes had to operate in the shadows. Before the big Marvel movies where everyone knows the super powered vigilante and they are this organized group that is basically just the world police. I like the idea of those super heroes like Spiderman, Batman, or hell, even the Incredibles, where the vigilantes aren’t allowed to operate openly, where they have to hide who they are, and their presence isn’t always welcomed by the police. Alter Ego has a lot of those themes, plus so, so much more! In this fast paced vigilante story, we have secret identities and organizations, generations of heroes, and a well-funded terrorist group opposite our heroes. Coupled with the powers and the gadgets, you have this struggle to balance the person along with the hero, of what it means to put on these different masks, and trying to figure out who the REAL person is, free of the secret identities, and what it means to be a hero; who exactly are the white hats when you operate outside of the law? For as awesome as the abilities were, it was those very real interpersonal struggles that this story presented that I gravitated toward the most.
“Chipless” is a futuristic dystopian where an event (known as the Pulse) has disrupted society. In response, a group of scientists have made a chip that helps regulate the population’s health, happiness, and even what they see, smell, and taste as all part of a very advanced augmented reality simulator. The chip’s—which is implanted in all citizens of The City at one year of age—primary function is to keep the populace from ever knowing that their world is dying, depleted of its natural resources. In exchange for all the advanced technology and not having to worry about their bodies, the land has been sucked dry. The chip keeps the citizens from knowing the true state of the world and therefore freaking out, or rebelling. Something like that, anyway. It honestly got a little confusing because it’s not like everyone lives in The City, there seem to be a lot of people without a chip (like Amber) so the idea of why The City needed this mind control, what the Pulse did or was, or why Kal was so important, got seriously diminished by the fact that having a chip was just so… benign and there were already so many people living free of The City’s clutches.
This series is going to destroy me in the best way possible. I read the first book in the trilogy years ago, and then again recently in preparation for finishing the series this year. “Angelfall” remains one of my favorite reads, and now “World After” is joining it! I was able to buddy read this and it was so much fun to talk about all the little things we noticed and the parts we loved, so I promise you, I got that all out of my system early to avoid spoilers. But seriously, read “Angelfall” first before even LOOKING at this review as “World After” starts almost exactly where the first book left off. But, in this installment, we get a lot more of Penryn on her own, her struggles with her survivors guilt and being the big sister Paige needs. She struggles trying to see PEOPLE instead of monsters, plus we finally get the full picture of what the angels are doing on Earth, and just how little humans actually matter to them.
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