Iweala's second novel, after Beasts of No Nation (2005), is a coming-of-age tale about immigrant identity and sexuality in America.
Niru, an ambitious teenager, is in his senior year at a private high school in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Driven by his demanding Nigerian parents, he strives for success in both sports and academics. As he prepares to attend Harvard next year, trains to impress his track coach, and struggles to make a space for himself among his mostly white peers, he deftly reconciles his conflicting identities as the son of wealthy Nigerian immigrants and as an American teenager. There's turmoil rippling beneath his life's surface, though. When his closest friend, the attractive Meredith, tries to hook up with him, he panics and admits to himself that he's attracted to men. Meredith excitedly tries to help him embrace his sexuality, but Niru's impulses are unacceptable to his conservative Christian parents. After discovering flirtatious conversations with men on the boy's phone, Niru's father, Obi, takes him back to Nigeria to "cure" his son of what he considers "sinful nonsense." The scenes of Niru's clashes with his father are the most affecting moments in the novel: by depicting the fervor and violence of Obi's anger about Niru's queerness, Iweala does a stunning job of depicting the danger that many black youth face in trying to honor their sexual identities. Despite trying to suppress his desires and simplify his family life, Niru meets the seductive Damien. The two begin a tentative and tender relationship, but this is not a triumphant novel about Niru’s embracing his sexual identity. Instead, Iweala gives us a novel of keen insight into the mental and emotional turmoil that attends an adolescent's discovery of his sexuality. Unfortunately, the book seems to lose steam toward its conclusion. Niru's relationship with Damien is not explored as fully as it could be, while the implications of his parents' pressure aren't entirely untangled. The novel resolves with the sudden and disjunctive insertion of another character's perspective, sabotaging the development of Niru's own subjectivity.
This is a deeply felt and perceptive novel that does not fulfill its promise.