An ambitious, imaginative, and important tale of Black queerness through history.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • National Book Award Finalist

THE PROPHETS

An epic attempt to imagine a history of Black queerness from the African past to the antebellum American South.

In his debut novel, Jones—perhaps better known to readers as the blogger Son of Baldwin—delivers an ambitious tale of love and beauty in the face of brutality. Samuel and Isaiah are two young men enslaved on a Mississippi plantation known as Empty. Isaiah is haunted by fragmented memories of the mother he was stripped from as a child; Samuel became Isaiah's first friend on the plantation when he was brought there in chains, and their relationship has bloomed into a love affair that sets them apart from the other slaves and disrupts the plantation's functioning. The plantation's owner is Paul, a White man who forces his slaves into having sex so the women will produce new slaves. Samuel’s and Isaiah's sexuality throws a wrench in Paul's cruelty, and the consequences of their love send ripples through the novel's vast cast of vividly rendered characters. There's Essie, for instance, the female slave Isaiah can't impregnate and who eventually is raped by Paul. She becomes pregnant with Solomon—whom she can't bring herself to love—and this infuriates Amos, an older slave who loves her and schemes to turn the plantation against Isaiah and Samuel for what he thinks of not only as their selfishness, but their unnatural love. "There was no suitable name for whatever it was that Samuel and Isaiah were doing," he reflects after seeing them coiled together in the barn they share. Jones spins a sprawling story of jealousy and passion that foregrounds Black queerness, asserting that queerness has always been part of the Black experience—not just in the slave past, but the African one as well. The novel stretches itself to the point of disbelief when Jones dips his toe into that African past, and there are too many balls in the air for the details of life on Empty to cohere into a satisfying plot. For all its faults, though, this is an inspired and important debut.

An ambitious, imaginative, and important tale of Black queerness through history.

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-08568-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A novel that reckons with ghosts—of both specific people and also the shadows resulting from America’s violent, dark habits.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2021

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE SENTENCE

The most recent recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in fiction—for The Night Watchman (2020)—turns her eye to various kinds of hauntings, all of which feel quite real to the affected characters.

Erdrich is the owner of Birchbark Books, an independent bookstore in Minneapolis and, in this often funny novel, the favorite bookstore of Flora, one of narrator Tookie’s “most annoying customers.” Flora wants to be thought of as Indigenous, a “very persistent wannabe” in the assessment of Tookie, who's Ojibwe. Flora appears at the store one day with a photo of her great-grandmother, claiming the woman was ashamed of being Indian: “The picture of the woman looked Indianesque, or she might have just been in a bad mood,” Tookie decides. Flora dies on All Souls’ Day 2019 with a book splayed next to her—she didn't have time to put a bookmark in it—but she continues shuffling through the store’s aisles even after her cremation. Tookie is recently out of prison for transporting a corpse across state lines, which would have netted her $26,000 had she not been ratted out and had the body not had crack cocaine duct-taped to its armpits, a mere technicality of which Tookie was unaware. Tookie is also unaware that Flora considered Tookie to be her best friend and thus sticks to her like glue in the afterlife, even smacking a book from the fiction section onto the floor during a staff meeting at Birchbark. The novel’s humor is mordant: “Small bookstores have the romance of doomed intimate spaces about to be erased by unfettered capitalism.” The characters are also haunted by the George Floyd murder, which occurred in Minneapolis; they wrestle with generations of racism against Black and Indigenous Americans. Erdrich’s love for bookselling is clear, as is her complicated affection for Minneapolis and the people who fight to overcome institutional hatred and racism.

A novel that reckons with ghosts—of both specific people and also the shadows resulting from America’s violent, dark habits.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-267112-7

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

Did you like this book?

A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE MAN WHO LIVED UNDERGROUND

A falsely accused Black man goes into hiding in this masterful novella by Wright (1908-1960), finally published in full.

Written in 1941 and '42, between Wright’s classics Native Son and Black Boy, this short novel concerns Fred Daniels, a modest laborer who’s arrested by police officers and bullied into signing a false confession that he killed the residents of a house near where he was working. In a brief unsupervised moment, he escapes through a manhole and goes into hiding in a sewer. A series of allegorical, surrealistic set pieces ensues as Fred explores the nether reaches of a church, a real estate firm, and a jewelry store. Each stop is an opportunity for Wright to explore themes of hope, greed, and exploitation; the real estate firm, Wright notes, “collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent from poor colored folks.” But Fred’s deepening existential crisis and growing distance from society keep the scenes from feeling like potted commentaries. As he wallpapers his underground warren with cash, mocking and invalidating the currency, he registers a surrealistic but engrossing protest against divisive social norms. The novel, rejected by Wright’s publisher, has only appeared as a substantially truncated short story until now, without the opening setup and with a different ending. Wright's take on racial injustice seems to have unsettled his publisher: A note reveals that an editor found reading about Fred’s treatment by the police “unbearable.” That may explain why Wright, in an essay included here, says its focus on race is “rather muted,” emphasizing broader existential themes. Regardless, as an afterword by Wright’s grandson Malcolm attests, the story now serves as an allegory both of Wright (he moved to France, an “exile beyond the reach of Jim Crow and American bigotry”) and American life. Today, it resonates deeply as a story about race and the struggle to envision a different, better world.

A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-59853-676-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Library of America

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

Did you like this book?

more