Sayon Hughes longs to escape the volatile Bristol neighborhood known as Ends, the tight-knit but sometimes lawless world in which he was raised, and forge a better life with Shona, the girl he's loved since grade school. With few paths out, he is drawn into dealing drugs alongside his cousin, the unpredictable but fiercely loyal Cuba. Sayon is on the cusp of making a clean break when an altercation with a rival dealer turns deadly and an expected witness threatens blackmail, upending his plans. Sayon's loyalties are torn. If Shona learns the secret of his crime, he will lose her forever. But if he doesn't escape Ends now, he may never get another chance. Is it possible to break free of the bookies' tickets, burnt spoons, and crooked solutions, and still keep the love of his life?
Impressive ... The writing, resplendent with streetwise Jamaican-English, illuminates a gritty urban realism ... McKenzie’s prose, especially the dialogue, wrestles with a conundrum: how to navigate the tension between instances where the language is heightened by a vernacular that lifts it above the ordinary, and the majority of exchanges, which have a soap-opera banality. It succeeds, largely, in being closer to The Wire than EastEnders, though at times the author betrays his inexperience by telegraphing future dramatic turning points ... An Olive Grove in Ends is a fable, peppered with biblical and Qur’anic epigraphs, and with Jamaican proverbs that inform its spiritual tone. Announcing the arrival of a promising 23-year-old author whose work is wise beyond his years, the novel is both a tale of redemption and a guide for how young, disaffected Black Britons – especially descendants of the enslaved – might, as Bob Marley advises, emancipate themselves from mental slavery.
Sayon’s world turns upside down, and is so rich to inhabit. His family and conflicts are alive and dynamic on every page, a testament to Bristol-based debut novelist McKenzie’s electrifying sense of voice.
Beautiful ... Exhibits both a tenderness for the residents and an unflinching examination of their struggles ... McKenzie renders the neighborhood’s rich and complicated social and familial networks as a study in contrasts, where violence and betrayal coexist with generosity and kindness. It’s a gorgeous debut that nurtures an unlikely sort of hope that’s predicated on countless losses.