In this debut novel, two brothers remain close until a tragic death rocks their family.
The Hopkins family—being of mixed race—stands out in the small town of Preston, Connecticut. Fourth-generation members Langston and Trajan are three years apart. Langston, who excels at taekwondo, dreams of competing in the Olympics. But when he falls for his beautiful classmate Angelica Chu, her older brother, Albert, self-proclaimed protector of his sister, fights Langston. He pushes him, and Langston ends up hitting his head, which causes permanent brain damage; he endures seizures and develops a learning disorder. The boys’ father, Chester, and their mother, Dottie, a kind, plainspoken teacher’s aide, drift apart—and Chester takes up with another woman. The boys’ grandfather Tuke fills in, steadily imparting wisdom about love and life to his grandsons. And then tragedy strikes the Hopkins family again; Langston dies while being held in police custody for simple trespassing. Dottie mourns, holed up in her bedroom, while Trajan wanders—following his friends toward trouble, exploring the newly discovered world of love and sex, and feeling lost without Langston to smooth the way for him. Dramatic surprises round out the conclusion, with descriptions worthy of cinematic translation. Quotable quotes abound (“Run from your troubles, and there’s no place the devil won’t find you. Stand your ground, and the devil just may go nosing around elsewhere”) as well as offbeat humor and lovely prose. Some phrases are shining standouts and must be reread to fully appreciate their subtlety, curvy flow, and euphonious cadence. But there are challenges for the reader in Mayberry’s semiautobiographical tale: the plot isn’t linear, and the author makes unexpected stops along the way, sometimes suddenly diving into the background of a character who’s just been introduced. This hopscotching narrative might be off-putting to some, but to a patient reader, it imparts a multilayered richness to the story and a striking clarity to the characters’ relationships.
More than just a complex coming-of-age story, this potent book makes an indelible impression.