A girl whose skin is black on the right side of her body, white on the left, becomes a magical figure in an apocalyptic future in this YA fantasy novel.
A full-on race war rages across a near-future America, pitting black and white Americans against one another: “There was no African American anymore, no Asian, no Native American, and no more Hispanic or Middle Eastern people. If you weren’t white, you were black.” The assassination of a far-right president by a militant black separatist leads to a police-state climate, resulting in murders, arrests, and mass incarcerations of black people in cities across the country. For Jetta, a sheltered 14-year-old girl in New Orleans, the horrors are particularly personal; she was inexplicably born half-white, half-black. When she was an infant, firefighters and paramedics barely rescued her from a deadly church-burning by neo-Nazis. Raised by her loving grandmother in a black household, she’s considered freakish by both militant factions; as a result, she customarily hides the white side of her face under a hoodie in public. The genocidal destruction of a New Orleans neighborhood makes Jetta a fugitive; Tyler, another resilient survivor whose brother is a fighter for a black nation-state, accompanies her. Jetta’s other traveling companions include the friendly ghosts of her grandmother and other slain friends, plus a cheerful, drum-playing drunk who, significantly, bears the name of an African storm god. In short, exciting chapters, prolific thriller writer Rose (Waltzing Matilda, 2018, etc.) spins an action-fantasy yarn with a hot-button premise that will strike some readers as urgently timely and others as being in questionable taste. As the story goes on, it moves away from gritty, gory descriptions of large-scale urban civil warfare and into magical-realism territory involving spirits and symbolic monsters, akin to those in Neil Gaiman’s 2001 fantasy novel, American Gods. Rose strives ambitiously to make a bigger metaphorical statement about the nature of human conflict, although it’s an unfocused one with an open-ended conclusion. Readers may find it easier to latch onto the story’s nightmarish left-versus-right mortal combat than its immortal deities wrestling with their destinies.
An incendiary tale featuring mythic and realistic elements.