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edited by E. Lynn Harris & Gerald Early

Pub Date: Jan. 13th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-553-80689-2
Publisher: Bantam

The expansive criteria in terms of authors, genres and publication dates (2006–09) makes for a treasure trove of discovery in this volume, though it doesn’t hold together as well as so many other best-of anthologies.

Readers across racial lines will find reason for delight in this debut of what is intended as an annual series, which mixes short stories with novel selections and young-adult fiction, and writers as acclaimed as Junot Díaz (typically categorized as Dominican-American) and as little known as L.F. Haines (whose selection from the young-adult work Up For It: A Tale of the Underground Respiration does not credit a publisher). A taste of Díaz’s virtuosic, award-winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao will likely leave readers hungry for the whole novel, while the Haines selection—with its gang warfare, drug house, references to Coltrane and Mingus and footnotes longer than David Foster Wallace’s—must qualify as young-adult fiction mainly on the basis of its 15-year-old protagonist. Too many of the novel selections which dominate these pages start in the middle of things, with the reader lacking context of character. A half-dozen self-contained stories open the volume, with settings that range from the Caribbean (“The Saving Work” by Tiphanie Yanique) to Nigeria (“Cell One” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie), and approaches from the metafictional (“Orb Weaver” by Emily Raboteau) to the first-person confessional (“This Kind of Red” by Helen Elaine Lee). A short introduction by Early provides perspective on African-American fiction, and another by guest editor Harris focuses on the selections.

Lacking cohesiveness, this will likely lead the curious reader to other books.