Iweala is still interested in style, this time the kind of clarity we sometimes associate with Hemingway and mistakenly term simple ... Niru’s homosexuality is very much the book’s subject, and the text is interested in dualities — Americans and Africans, white and black, gay and straight, devout and skeptic, the black immigrant and the black American — while always returning to the question of what his gayness says about who Niru is. Iweala writes with such ease about adolescents and adolescence that Speak No Evil could well be a young adult novel. At the same time he toys with other well-defined forms: the immigrant novel, the gay coming-of-age novel, the novel of being black in America. The resulting book is a hybrid of all these ... In his smart exploration of generational conflict, of what it is to be a gay man, of the crisis of existence as a black man, Iweala is very much a realist. Perhaps the trouble is my own wish that reality itself were different.
Iweala compellingly illustrates how traditional Nigerian, Christian values abhor homosexuality: it’s just not an option. He brings to life how painful this journey is for a family, how it rips a family apart when there is bigotry and intolerance woven into their relationships. We root for young Niru, but there is no safe harbor for him ... Iweala vividly recounts the story of a young man set apart. He does so with clarity and depth, making you feel Niru’s pain—understand how it is to be rejected by everyone and everything you love—to be an outsider. Most coming out stories are difficult, it’s never an easy process, but when faced with a culture and a church that sometimes reject you outright, and in no uncertain terms, it’s even lonelier. There aren’t always happy endings and the author gives us that experience with great emotion and sensitivity. Speak No Evil isn’t an easy read. It is, however, compelling, sensitively told, and satisfying.
If Niru’s struggle with family, friends and sexuality makes Speak No Evil sound like a YA novel, then perhaps it is ... The language is clean and direct enough to be read by young people, and the sexual scenes not overly explicit. But the author brings an adult sensibility to his subject ... Though it takes place in seemingly safe D.C. rather than a war-torn African nation, Speak No Evil is a more ambitious and riskier novel [than Beasts of No Nation], with a deeper understanding of its characters’ conflicted hearts. Mr. Iweala’s novel weaves together sexual, religious and political strands as it builds to a devastating climax.