Rousing, celebratory ... An unabashed ode to living with, and despite, pain and mortality. I love this book’s understanding of how tightly grief can tangle itself with elation, and how loss might elicit possession. It is also riotously, delightfully queer, featuring, hallelujah, so many characters who weren’t straight that I had trouble remembering if anyone even was heterosexual ... Emezi’s latest novel is a departure in genre and prose style from their previous work, and it could appeal especially to people who, living through an isolating pandemic that has accelerated loss, hunger for more joie de vivre.
Emezi extends their interest in genre fiction, which has so far encompassed young adult fantasy, speculative fiction and poetry, but revisits recurring themes such as love, family, faith and identity. This is romance, albeit with a large slice of grief and survivor’s guilt, so a happily-ever-after ending is expected — required, even. What distinguishes novels of this genre is the skill with which an author innovates within the confines of a predictable narrative arc. In this book, Emezi manages to adhere to romance conventions, while turning all sorts of expectations on their head ... With the encouragement of her best friend Joy — their friendship and its zinging, expletive-driven dialogue is one of the best things about the novel — Feyi is determined to thin out her grief ... While Feyi’s meditation on what it means to be alive is a major recurring theme throughout the novel, one that ultimately decides her hand, this repetitive preoccupation also makes the first third of the novel drag ... There are instances where Emezi resorts to clichéd metaphors ... But You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty...is more literary than most romance novels. Emezi has a poet’s facility for striking imagery in their descriptions of the paradisiacal island, which are full of sensory detail. And simple lines of text are charged with emotion ... It is the three-dimensional portrait of its protagonist, together with an unusual depiction of love and loss, that really anchors this novel.
The novel doesn’t shy away from heavier topics—loss and grief shape multiple characters, and homophobia has scarred Alim’s family—but Feyi’s love life is very much the core, and it allows her, and the reader, to revel in happiness when it comes. Healthy, complicated hunger is a recurring theme, with Emezi displaying a delicious skill at both teasing out its fulfillment and dealing with the messy interpersonal complications. The island getaway is a bit obviously a fantasy, but that doesn’t impede the novel’s unrepentant and joyful celebration of success, of personal beauty, and of sumptuous music, art, and food ... a strongly contemporary novel, leaning into modern slang and dialog, frequently referencing currently working artists, and with a refreshing and foundational concern for mental and emotional health ... Sometimes the emotional forthrightness of the novel struck me as a little unnatural: it’s a third-person narrative, and we’re often told Feyi’s exact feelings before it seems like she’s had time to process them. However, the overall effect is to keep the story pinned to someone working through big changes, not perfectly, but consciously ... Emezi’s character work is great, and the way the novel points towards happiness is an obvious strength, but the highly convenient elements of the romance take some getting used to. The smoothing away of all financial hurdles is one example ... These freedoms from material concerns allow us to focus on Feyi’s emotional and romantic journey (and on the luxurious setting) but I found the unrelenting wealth and privilege distracting at times. The servants who maintain these lavish lifestyles are nameless or invisible, and we really don’t get even a glimpse of life outside a very moneyed bubble—it’s not even clear which country Feyi is visiting. It all fits in innocently enough with the “billionaire romance” tropes, and the novel’s celebration of personal and material success, in the wake of loss and hardship, is one of its core strengths. But, coming from an author who has previously shown such skill at animating often-marginalized characters, this narrow focus on the lifestyles of the rich and famous feels limiting. And it’s mirrored in the way that the narration spends more time naming contemporary artists than it does describing anyone’s artwork: while Feyi herself feels intensely real, the world she moves in sometimes seems more surface than substance ... Those concerns aside, the areas that are fleshed out absolutely land: the soundtrack, the sensual focus on food and bodies, the way Feyi’s relationships develop ... Emezi is showing some really impressive range and versatility here, and knocks this romance out of the park.
... a lush, high-stakes romance novel that diehard romance loyalists and genre newcomers alike will appreciate. Emezi’s literary range is legendary, having succeeded in memoir, poetry and literary fiction for both adult and young adult readers, but it’s still a wonder that they’ve pulled off one of the most sensational and taboo tropes in the romance genre: falling in love with the parent of your romantic partner ... For me, as for many readers, family boundaries are sacred—or, from another perspective, radioactive. Emezi conquers these reservations with palpable chemistry and gorgeous prose, offering an indelibly poignant portrait of a second chance at love for two people who have suffered searing loss ... Emezi’s novel is notable for respecting the conventions of the romance genre while imbuing Feyi and Alim’s story with a distinctly progressive sensibility. The lovers are finely drawn, modern and specific. Both are Black, queer and sexy, and descriptions of their beauty are worth the price of admission alone. Feyi’s artwork is experimental and edgy, with a secret ingredient I won’t spoil ... Another lovely element of the novel is Emezi’s departure from the implicit rule that a romance protagonist can’t hook up with anyone but their one true love. Feyi experiments sexually, makes a risky choice or two and isn’t punished for it. Her freedom and sex positivity shouldn’t be rare in romance novels, but it is ... The list of admirable qualities of You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty is long, but I’ll end with this: Emezi executes their first romance with creativity and deep respect. Come for the swoon; stay for the passion.
... the summer’s spiciest book and a most winning diversity story all rolled into one ... This story is for those who want a good beach read in the form of a naughty but genuinely moving romance and those for whom diverse representation is appreciated and desired. Their fans will be completely compelled and charmed by the fiery determination of all the characters and the refreshingly stark and straight-ahead depiction of sexuality in a variety of aspects. The language of love and the ferocity of sexual longing and performance create a foundation for what could have become a banal soap opera storyline. Instead, readers have a chance to experience a woman coming back to life in ways that are unexpected and deeply thrilling ... not a genre book. Those expecting a Hallmark romance might want to go elsewhere. But if you’re looking for a down and dirty look at grief, lust, love and everything in between through the eyes of a protagonist just awakening after a long respite, this is the book for you. I have to admit that the frankness of the sexual material was sometimes quite shocking to me, but it is ultimately a provocative look at what one woman’s new world order can become ... Emezi is a magician who doesn’t mince words. This is truly one of the most profane and simultaneously sacred books about love and grief I have ever read. Put that copy in your beach bag right now and try not to gasp out loud at any of the stunning twists and turns this story takes.
Emezi’s latest work is sexy, complex, and moving. The author illustrates the complexities of grief, new love, and a young woman discovering who she is and who she wants to be, and readers will enjoy a new take on a love triangle romance.
A refreshingly complex take on love stories in a tale filled with lingering, heartfelt sentences and passionate embraces ... Emezi has created a dazzling celebration of the messiness of living and feeling with their signature gift for articulating characters’ inner voices in raw and expressive detail. Couple that with a thrilling story of forbidden love, and Emezi has created a seductive and powerful novel that will make readers feel renewed.
Deeply emotional ... Emezi does a great job capturing the unavoidable mess as the complicated characters collide. Though the middle gets a bit winded and repetitive, there are some powerful revelations about loss and love along the way. This is sure to tug at readers’ heartstrings.
A scorching tale ... The slow burn Emezi generates as Feyi and Alim fight their shared desire is well crafted, but the ease with which Alim is willing to destroy his relationship with his son—and his daughter—for Feyi is chilling. Feyi insists that no one who hasn’t lost a partner can understand her, but the way she and Alim talk about themselves as a whole world with two people in it feels more like folie à deux than real love. Feyi’s career as an artist also seems detached from reality ... It’s too bad that the most engaging character here—her best friend, Joy—gets relegated to the role of one-woman chorus, talking sense that Feyi absolutely does not want to hear ... A narrative built from cliché and pure fantasy.