KJ’s (The Year We Roamed, 2013, etc.) novel follows two men across six decades—and across America’s racial divide.
Troy Dove and Vincent Taylor first meet as students at the Maple Leaf Elementary School in Northeast Seattle in 1972. Vincent is a white student from the neighborhood, while Troy is one of a few African-American students bussed in as part of a desegregation program. Vincent quickly admires Troy and befriends him. They briefly share such childhood moments as kickball games, discussions of first crushes, and after-school fishing trips—before their racist environment separates them. As the years go by, their lives take very different directions. Vincent finishes his time at Maple Leaf, then goes on to high school, college, an internship in London, and—for a time—a successful marriage and career. Troy, on the other hand, begins to suffer as soon as he’s transferred to an elementary school in his own impoverished neighborhood. He becomes addicted to drugs in his teenage years and cycles deeper and deeper into a life of violence and incarceration. Interwoven throughout the two men’s narratives are stories of Vincent’s aunt, Shirley, and of a compassionate woman named Dolores Moffat, who struggles to find a meaningful place for herself in the world. The novel’s scope is impressive, following multiple life stories from the racially charged 1970s, through the crack epidemic of the late ’80s, to the present day, and beyond. Following these characters through the years can sometimes be disorienting; KJ skips from one to another in quick succession, often before readers have a chance to become fully engaged with a particular person’s plight. The connections between the various narratives can also be tangential or rely too heavily on coincidence or sentimentality. That said, highly detailed portraits of Vincent and Troy emerge over the course of the novel as the author walks through their crimes, transgressions, and regrets. He fully immerses readers in the characters’ memories, as well as their healing processes.
An often engaging saga of personal mistakes and shared redemption.