PanNPR... an overreliance on atmospherics at the expense of basic building blocks weakens the overall story and themes ... I dove into Sorrowland ready to be enraptured by it ... I understand that Vern would be perceived by terrible people as more grown than she is, but the narrative reads as if it wants you to see her as an adult ... until it\'s convenient. Reading frequently that seasons or months had passed, I believed she was in her twenties by the end of the story, until I found out otherwise in a moment of crisis. This is a useful shock tactic for those who see Black girls as too grown, but how is it supposed to feel for those readers who, like Vern, are used to receiving this treatment? ... Similar talking around truths lead to an incredibly painful approach to HIV/AIDS ... I\'d read a line and wonder if Solomon was telling us a character secret or using a colloquial turn of phrase for a specific story reason. And then fae\'d drop the subject for ten or even twenty chapters, and I\'d accept I read too deeply — only for it to pop back up later, written as one character revealing the truth to another ... Outside of her immediate family, most of Vern\'s allies exist as plot points ... Solomon is a skilled writer, with imagery that sticks with me even with all my frustrations. Fae write about Black pain in its rawest form, and we feel Vern\'s raw, vulnerable state throughout all of Sorrowland. If anything, nearly every issue I had with this book comes from the places where I wanted more — more of Solomon hitting us with the truth, with the highs and lows of Vern\'s four years on the run. The real tragedy here is how much I ended up wondering about what ended up on the cutting room floor, rather than the blossoming horror on the page.
P. Djèlí Clark
RaveNPRP. Djèlí Clark is no stranger to the novella, and Ring Shout, a demonic horror twist on the Jim Crow South, is the newest addition to his collection. In Ring Shout, Clark gives us a world where the release of The Birth of a Nation in 1915 was a ritual performed by white men to summon demons — and not just any demons. Ku Kluxes are pale, pointy-headed entities existing alongside human members of the Klan, terrorizing Black folk and intentionally feeding the Klan\'s racist hatred ... Clark\'s craft and thoughtfulness are best seen in his use of history. Ring Shout navigates the thorny waters of using real events, as we\'ve recently seen in TV shows like Watchmen and Lovecraft Country ... I finished my first reading of Ring Shout easily, in a single sitting; once the story picks up, it keeps hitting hard, climbing — no soaring — to a cinematic finish, with character beats that hit beautifully.
Alaya Dawn Johnson
PositiveNPRThis seems standard enough — the classic noir tale of an assassin desperate to be done with the life. I\'d admittedly be into this trope no matter what, but Johnson gives us far more than that ... What she\'s wrestling with aren\'t the standard noir tropes: Here, Johnson\'s themes and threats have as much in common with Nella Larsen\'s Passing and Mat Johnson\'s Incognegro as they do with any Richard Stark or Raymond Chandler yarn ... As much as I loved Walter and Dev, however, some of their racial positioning gave me pause. There were moments where I wondered how much that part of their identity (Walter is Native American and Dev is Indian) was being treated more as window dressing than being Black or white was, for Black and white characters. Johnson struggles with this in her depiction of Dev, who in other ways is just as complex as Phyllis, attracted to her violence but in love with her as a person. Walter is similar, nicknamed Red Man by the white men who fear him. It seems like Johnson intends that problematic name to parallel the way the book sees Phyllis vs. Pea. However, when Walter isn\'t a protagonist — and he hasn\'t chosen the name the way Phyllis chose Pea — it doesn\'t work the same way ... there is a complex sometimes-queer story between Phyllis and Tamara that I wish was better developed, and while the sex scenes are usually well done, I\'m not sure I will ever recover from the comparison to, uh ... okra ... that happens at one point ... the violence is slick and impressive when we have to wrestle with it ... Alaya Dawn Johnson refuses to allow her protagonists — or her readers — to get out of the repercussions of their actions. The protagonists handle the immediate threats with all the skill and messiness of adults forced into corners, but war, racism, the mob and the law still hang over them. They\'re only allowed the outs that they have earned — and whether they can ever earn that happiness is the central question of the narrative ... Put together by a masterful wordsmith, Trouble the Saints gives us a tale of how agency doesn\'t always equal freedom, and solutions don\'t always lead to success, with characters you desperately hope make the right choice — even when that choice doesn\'t exist.