Kiara and her brother, Marcus, are scraping by in an East Oakland apartment complex optimistically called the Regal-Hi. Both have dropped out of high school, their family fractured by death and prison. Kiara hunts for work to pay their rent—which has more than doubled—and to keep the nine-year-old boy next door, abandoned by his mother, safe and fed. One night, what begins as a drunken misunderstanding with a stranger turns into the job Kiara never imagined wanting but now desperately needs: nightcrawling. Her world breaks open even further when her name surfaces in an investigation that exposes her as a key witness in a massive scandal within the Oakland Police Department.
... 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.