... a powerful, poignant story worth your attention. Despite all of Mottley’s good fortune, she demonstrates an extraordinary degree of sympathy with people who have none ... What’s even more remarkable is that Nightcrawling isn’t one of those thinly disguised diaries we’ve come to expect from precocious young novelists who can’t think of anything else to write about except their own heartache ... Mottley wastes no time with subtlety. She’s describing people whose lives are a series of shocks and humiliations that arrive with such regularity that they’ve become routine ... In these opening pages, Mottley effectively outlines the perilous economy of poverty in America. It’s a dramatic accounting that gives tangible form to what millions of invisible people endure amid so much bounty ... My god — that voice. It’s sometimes too painful to keep reading, but always too urgent to stop. In page after page, you can hear Mottley’s precocious work as a poet, first recognized by the Oakland Public Library that named her Oakland’s youth poet laureate in 2018. She’s already perfected the delicate task of infusing these observations with a kind of raw poetry without doing violence to the natural cadence of her narrator’s speech ... Mottley never drifts from Kiara’s point of view and never uses her as a mere device to retell the criminal story of what happened in Oakland. After all, that was already well covered by journalists. Instead, as the scandal breaks around Kiara with all its legal complications and criminal threats, the novel stays focused on the young woman’s concern for the people she loves, and that tight perspective proves surprisingly revelatory about the way our justice system re-traumatizes victims of sexual violence ... Mottley, just a few years from childhood herself, has managed to preserve that imperiled spirit in this harrowing novel.
Empathetic ... Mottley writes about Kiara’s serial abuse frankly, without blinking ... Kiara’s story is pure fiction, Mottley says, but her circumstances are disturbingly, statistically real ... Mottley writes with a lyrical abandon that reminds us she was once Oakland’s youth poet laureate. Some similes...land better than others ... A confusingly underdeveloped romance between Kiara and her best friend, Alé...feels unearned when it finally comes to fruition. But beneath this gratuitous embroidery, there’s a desperation — a reaching, through language, for some kind of salvation ... In a novel about sex work and displacement, there is somehow less pathos in all the moments of graphic violence combined than there is in a single, gutting passage of profound love.
Fierce, lyrical ... Through Mottley’s deft maneuvering of a resolute mind in free fall, we watch, powerless, as a steady trickle of decisions usher Kiara into darkened city streets ... The story’s skeleton (the ache in its bones, the truth in its spine) is drawn from recent history ... Light reading, it is not; essential to understanding how maddeningly elusive justice can be, absolutely ... As a writer, Mottley channels the natural prose of everyday life, the way people and cities breathe and spit and shiver. It is unflinching writing, the kind that soothes even as it strikes; the darkest, most denigrating passages are reliably followed by the light.
Kiara’s retelling of these events is clipped, demotic and, apart from a few moments of emotional catharsis, focused on the brass tacks of staying alive. Her story becomes more and more gripping and desperate as the trap around her closes. Ms. Mottley accesses the feelings one sometimes has while reading Dickens, the breathless sense that some massive unfairness is being inflicted on a good and innocent person ... Kiara’s true outlet for hope is in the makeshift family of friends and relatives she manages to hold together. From such connections Ms. Mottley’s seemingly fatalistic book finds its buoyant humanity.
Author Leila Mottley takes readers deep into the heart of this dark world, where Kiara’s coming-of-age story unfolds like a gaping wound left to fester. The narrative is difficult to read and yet so compelling that one cannot put it down ... Through Kiara, Mottley gives voice to countless Black women and girls who remain invisible, vulnerable, and dehumanized by a system that deems them disposable ... Kiara’s voice is strong and unforgettable ... Trust Mottley not to leave Kiara—and us—in the depths of gloom ... A testimony to hope, resilience, and love.
How you respond to Nightcrawling, the debut work by Leila Mottley, might depend on whether you believe in the novel as a vehicle for social commentary ... As a critique of the nature of policing, the way society treats women...and sex workers, and the impact of the ever-widening class divide in the US, Nightcrawling has merit ... The book expresses the humanity behind social injustice issues ... Those of us who have grown suspect of the idea of a novel as social commentary, however, may feel something lacking here. The characters we expect to be evil are evil, the characters we expect to carry the book’s moral flame do so. There isn’t enough sticky middle ground, or simple daily realism to make this more than a didactic exercise ... Furthermore, the language has the semblance of richness, but is in fact quite hollow ... All of this adds up to make Nightcrawling a perfectly adequate, if not mind-blowing novel. Perhaps that’s what debuts are for. There’s promise here, but no fireworks.
At a time when structural imbalances of capital, health, gender and race deepen divides, the young American Leila Mottley’s debut novel is a searing testament to the liberated spirit and explosive ingenuity of such storytelling ... What makes Nightcrawling scarring and unforgettable as a novel is Mottley’s ability to change our language about and perception of the repressed and confined. She does this by entering the mind, body and soul of Kiara, one of the toughest and kindest young heroines of our time ... From the messy yet intimate domestic interiors of Kiara’s apartment to the seedy Oakland streets studded by potholes, Mottley creates a broken world in which reality reads like exuberant satire ... Fiction needs both order and chaos. Mottley handles the chaos outside and inside Kiara with a quiet, cool elegance that is entirely unjudgmental. This is a difficult feat, particularly when all eyes around Kiara – those of family, friends, police officers turned clients, and finally a grand jury – focus fiercely on her throughout, making demands on her time, body, money and capacity for forgiveness ... Nevertheless, it is exactly its commitment to the art and ethics of survival that makes Nightcrawling a rare and compelling meditation on the powerless. The blazing candour of Motley’s art unpacks Kiara’s complex psychology, youth and edgy intelligence as well as showing her unflinching maternal instinct to protect Marcus and Trevor at all costs ... not only a fearless investigation of justice, guilt and prejudice, but an allegory of the potential power of speech, narrative and fiction itself ... marks the dazzling arrival of a young writer with a voice and vision you won’t easily get out of your head.
This is not an easy read. The words flow easily, with a visceral, in-your-face voice, but the subject matter is graphic and relentless ... Mottley’s writing style fits the story perfectly. Ki’s voice is so honest and vulnerable, even as she’s telling stories from the past when her family was at least partially intact and life didn’t seem so hopeless ... The novel would be completely bleak without a character named Alé, a friend of Ki’s who works at her parents’ restaurant and cooks for her at least once a week to keep her from starving to death. The evolution of that positive relationship serves as the counter to the depraved inhumanity Ki experiences on the streets ... heralds a bold new voice in fiction.
With so much at stake, you might have thought Mottley would be content to unpick the repercussions, but she has plenty more to throw at this short novel. So much, in fact, that she risks turning what is a compelling read into a succession of scantily painted characters, including a drug-dealing brother, a Black Panther father, a rich, rapper uncle and a mother who has committed the most heinous crime of all, though it is mentioned almost only in passing ... Mottley is a master at describing scenes but spends less time on people. Oakland appears as another character ... The climax, when it comes, is subtle rather than explosive, but moved me to tears. Mottley has said she wrote the first draft in a couple of months, an impressive feat which helps to explain the book’s rhythmical flow. She has ducked out of college, which she started early, to write. The pressure is on what comes next. Now that Mottley has found her own voice, America – and readers in the UK – will be watching.
Predation and the systems of exploitation that women and girls of colour endure in contemporary America are the driving forces of this novel. Kiara is your classic YA protagonist – brave, resilient, sensitive, and golden-hearted despite her hardships – but her journey is phenomenally gruelling ... a panoramic portrait of the systems designed to make lives like Kiara’s disposable, and ripe for exploitation. She lives at the intersection of racism, poverty and misogyny, and Mottley’s depiction of that crushing oppression feels vital in this cultural moment. As a novelist, Mottley has a poet’s ear for dialogue. She captures the rhythms of speech – the code-switching of the Oakland streets, the unique language of children and teens, and of slick lawyers and slimy cops – with virtuosic talent ... With that comes a poet’s love of imagery and language. Not one sentence in the novel could be accused of being underwritten ... The writing is rich to the point of distraction. In the space of any given paragraph, the overlapping metaphors build up and mix uneasily, sometimes bordering on being impenetrable ... Between the harder-to-parse writing and the intensity of the story and subject, Nightcrawling is a tough hang. But therein lies its value to readers in Australia, perhaps. In tone, delivery, richness, and sheer heart, Nightcrawling straddles poetics and YA readability while it interrogates hard truths of the world, grappling with cultural reckonings still necessary in this country ... What it lacks in concision it makes up for with delight in the rhythm of language, and the unembarrassed energy of a young author – Mottley was just 17 when she started writing – firing on all cylinders.
Kiara is an unforgettable dynamo, and her story brings critical human depth to conversations about police sexual violence. Mottley, an activist and the 2018 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate, lends her deft hand for poetics to the prose of this stunning debut novel.
Much of the discussion around Mottley’s first novel is sure to focus on the author’s age—17 when she began writing, currently attending college—but this is a forceful work even outside of this remarkable context ... It’s a work of devastating social realism but cut through with a strain of pulp fiction...and it’s executed with relentless momentum, built of purely dramatic moments and steeped in emotions that are wrung from characters as if they were wet rags. As a result, there’s a certain melodramatic texture, and the construction of narrative incident can sometimes feel a bit inelegant. But it’s held together by Mottley’s singular voice, rife with frequent poetic flourishes and almost impatient with energy ... Undeniably bleak but littered with small beauties and a powerful discourse on the dehumanizing effects policing can have on marginalized communities, bodies, and minds (and especially on Black women). Mottley’s novel understands that sometimes a happy ending just means surviving.
A bold and beautiful account of two Black siblings striving to thrive and survive ... Mottley powerfully chronicles Kiara’s desperation and her bravery, as well as her determination to keep moving forward despite the crushing torrent of losses affecting her family as well as those of everyone she knows. Scenes of realism are rendered with a poet’s eye, as Kiara experiences moments of beauty and joy by tagging an underpass wall with spray paint, learning to swim in a dirty pool, and finding shelter in the arms of a friend. This heartrending story makes for a powerful testament to a Black woman’s resilience.
While the eventual tale of sexual violence, police corruption, and injustice preordained is inspired by real-life Oakland events, it’s Kiara’s intense, anguished interiority rendered in lovely and poetic exposition that drives this evocation of an underclass and the disposable women just trying to survive. If the rich language occasionally tips toward impenetrable...so too does the hard trap Kiara can’t escape, the engineered tragedy of intersectional poverty, racism, and misogyny. The acute observations are more remarkable still considering the author is herself a promising Oakland teen ... Plot, shmot—the real story here is lush, immersive writing and a relentless reality that crushes a girl’s soul.