Kev was born during the riots in the aftermath of the Rodney King trial, and it’s shortly after his birth that his older sister Ella begins to develop powers beyond her control. When they move to Harlem to escape South Central, her powers intensify, and she grapples with anger at the injustices happening around her.
Onyebuchi packs a lot into this little book. Riot Baby directly confronts decades of police violence by building upon real life events like the well-known beating of Rodney King, as well as nodding to perhaps lesser known, but no less important, events such as the Watts Riots of1960s Los Angeles and the shooting of Sean Bell in 2006 ... By weaving together history and fantasy, he adroitly demonstrates how racism has been, and continues to be, embedded in the culture of the United States. This technique works quite well to emphasise and sharpen his commentary, while also allowing a glimpse into a not-so-distant dystopian future ...
Onyebuchi is a truly skilled world-builder and his juxtaposition of the real and the fantastic, the present and the possible future, is impressive. In relatively few words, he creates such realistic images in the mind of the reader, immersing them in each scene. The narrative builds and builds, digging its claws in ever sharper, drawing the reader to the edge of their seat. The only drawback to this novella is that I wanted more! I could have easily inhaled a book twice as long, as I found myself wanting to know much more about the brave characters he created and the multiple worlds they inhabit.
... a damn good story ... To call Riot Baby 'dystopian' is to undersell it ... For BIPOC in a white supremacist society, the dystopia is past, present, and future. And that’s what makes Riot Baby so impressive. Onyebuchi shows a world that is frightening only if you’ve been exempt from mass oppression. For those of us dealing with it every moment of every day, Riot Baby isn’t so much of a warning about what might happen if we aren’t more vigilant and more of a thinkpiece about where we’re already headed ... Onyebuchi could have ended the story on a note of desperation and cynicism; instead he opts for hope. Well, it’s hopeful if you’re BIPOC. Maybe not so much if you like being in power ... With an eviscerating and eloquent style, Tochi Onyebuchi tells a profound story about resistance. The narrative moves from South Central to Harlem to Rikers to Watts and jumps between Ella and Kev as they grow up. This allows Onyebuchi to tell two vast stories with the same concise theme. It’s a clever trick that manages to give this novella a novel-like breadth ... As much as I love his young adult fiction, I hope this is not Tochi Onyebuchi’s only excursion into adult fiction. Riot Baby left me gasping for air and ready to take to the streets.