Young, intelligent African-Americans become vehicles for their own undoing in this collection of eight stories.
Armed with no easy answers but plenty of bad choices, the talented, too-smart-for-their-own-good protagonists are painfully aware of the consequences of their actions, even when they think they have no better choice. The 15-year-old girl in “Virgins” guiltily opts for the lesser of two evils after leaving her best friend in a precarious situation. A young mixed-race girl exiled to her white grandmother’s Tallahassee home for the summer learns a rough lesson in racial disparity—and the power of a lie. A traumatized Iraq War veteran who becomes a surrogate father to his ex’s little daughter sees his good intentions backfire, big time, over his poor judgment. In “The King of a Vast Empire,” a young man who is talked into a risky road trip with his college-coed sister recalls how shaped they both were by a childhood car accident that destroyed the structure of their family, while leaving it externally intact. After being casually cruel to the fiancé of her former lover, the drifting young woman in “Wherever You Go, There You Are” sees an opportunity for both of them to move on, even if she is not exactly ready. But the moral ambiguity of Evans’s achingly believable world finds its best expression in the devastating final story, “Robert E. Lee is Dead,” in which the brainy black cheerleader, CeeCee, jeopardizes her own high-school graduation with a pointless act of vandalism. Although she is instigated by her closest friend Geena, whose future is less bright, CeeCee’s decision is her own. She shares this characteristic with the other survivors in this arresting book, along with the regret.
A welcome new talent—with a funny and dark take on being black in America.