Book Review: The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

Rating:  ★★★★

I read SGJ’s Mapping the Interior late last year and was very impressed.  So impressed in fact, that I went through and added just about everything he’d ever written to my TBR.  So of course I was very excited to read this.

The premise is this: ten years ago, four friends embarked on an illegal hunting trip.  They knew what they did was wrong.  They did it anyway.  Now, something evil is hunting them back.

The story started out very strong.  I heard the term literary horror for the first time last year in reference to another book, and that phrase kept popping up over and over again in my head while I was reading this.  There was symbolism, biting social commentary, the imagery and tone were perfect.

There were times in reading this I was genuinely unsure if I wanted to continue- not because the book was bad, but because it was just that dark.  I cherished every single word I read in that first fifty percent.  I cared about the characters, I cared about Lewis’s marriage.  I cared about their friendships and their pets.  If this had been a novella, and had ended after Lewis’s part, I think it would have been damn near perfect.

However, after Lewis’s part, we shift POVs.  And while I enjoyed those parts too, I think the problem was that I was already so attached to Lewis I wasn’t ready to leave him.  I do wonder if I would have enjoyed this a little more if those parts had been switched around.  I don’t think either Gabe or Cass came across as sympathetic as Lewis did, so it was difficult to become reinvested in their story lines after finishing Lewis’s.

There’s a lot of basketball in this story – so the parts of this that talked about basketball I sometimes drifted off.  I’m less than five feet tall and have always been more inclined towards mental gymnastics then physcial ones, so it’s just not my thing, though I think it was used very well here.  Basketball seemed to make up a decent chunk of the second half, so the pace felt inevitably slower, hence the 4 stars instead of 5.

This is very much a supernatural story with a very supernatural ending, so if that’s not your thing this may not be for you.  The horror aspect is brutal and visceral – so consider yourself warned.  It won’t be for everyone.

But if you think you can cope with it- I highly recommend trying this out.  I was even more impressed with this than the last SGJ book I read, and I’m eager to read his other works.

The Only Good Indians released on July 14, 2020 and can be found on GoodReads or Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for the review copy.

Have you read The Only Good Indians?  What did you think?

Book Review: The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu

Rating:  ★★★★

My only experience with Ken Liu thus far has been in his translation of Cixin Liu’s The Three Body Problem and Death’s End.  But I know he has a few beloved books already published out there, so I jumped at the chance to read this.

I generally try to read the introduction whenever one is included, and I definitely recommend reading the intro to The Hidden Girl and Other Stories.  Liu talks a little about his writing process and how he went about selecting stories for this book.  He says that stories are co-told by an author’s words and a reader’s interpretation; that writing a story is like building a house in which the reader moves in, arranges the furniture and decor to suit their tastes, and settles down.

He also goes on to say that it would be impossible for him to construct a home in which everyone was comfortable, so he selected the stories that he himself felt most comfortable in, and asks that the reader “find a story..to make [their] home.”  I adored the metaphor and knew with that short but sweet introduction I was in for a treat.

That being said, I really am terrible at reviewing collections.  So terrible in fact, that I’ve put this off for two months because I read it in December.  It took me a week because these were stories that often required some processing afterward, so I know it’s worthy of a fantastic review and I’ve no idea how to convey that to you.

So bare with me friends, I’m doing my best.

The first two stories “Ghost Days” and “Maxwell’s Demon” absolutely blew me out of the water.  They were both eye opening, haunting.  They were stories I think it would benefit everyone to read at least once.  While “Ghost Days” is about the importance of history and immigrant experience in America, “Maxwell’s Demon” is about the experience of a woman of Japanese descent in America during WWII.

For me, the stories that follow didn’t quite live up to the enormous standard by those first two stories.  What they do instead, is follow, as Liu himself put it, a “meta-narrative”.  Trailing different and yet similar themes (AI, digital immortality, virtual reality, shared experiences, parent-child relationships, etc.) weaving together an inventive tapestry of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

I will say this book ventures to some dark places.  Sometimes I’d read a story and have to put the book down for a bit because it was that dark.  Many stories don’t have a happy ending.

I do think the book finished strong, despite being a little bogged down in the middle.  Other highlights include the miniseries starting with “The Gods Will Not Be Chained” and “The Hidden Girl”.

In the end, I liked The Hidden Girl and Other Stories enough that I will certainly be checking out Liu’s other work.  This collection is well worth picking up for fans and newcomers alike.

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories releases on February 25, 2020 and can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher for sending an ARC for review.

Book Review: Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones

Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones

Rating:  ★★★★

This is my first experience with Stephen Graham Jones, and I’m really sort of sorry for it. I wish I had started reading his work sooner.   Mapping the Interior is a story about a boy who is being haunted by the ghost of his father.  It’s a quick story, and the plot really is that straightforward.  It can be read in just a couple hours.

The prose is easy to read but also had a really strong sense of voice, which I loved.  It held a rhythm and cadence that felt unique to Jones.  This is a horror story, and it’s a slow burn, at least as far as a novella can be slow.  At first, the ghost just seems like a benevolent spirit, watching over his sons, but after a dangerous encounter with the neighbor’s dogs, we know that’s not quite what’s happening. (Content Warnings: violence against animals.)

The ending snuck up on me, and I wasn’t at all prepared for it.  It’s disturbing, not necessarily scary.  There are a couple flashes of horror between the beginning and the end, but it wasn’t anything that felt so horrific I couldn’t hand it off to a friend to read.  But then the ending came and I had to put the book down, and stop, and digest, and think about it, and think about it some more.  My initial reaction was that I didn’t like the ending at all.  It was a little ambiguous.  It makes you think twice about our heroic protagonist.  It seems to renege on the initial conclusions we’ve drawn.

If you’re wondering why I was raving about Jones all last week, it’s because this book stuck with me long after I had set it down.  It may be with me for awhile yet.  I’ve been putting off this review because I’m still not 100% sure how I felt about it.

If I had one critique, it’s that Mapping the Interior often felt literary: metaphorical and symbolic and allegorical.  But I was never quite able to grasp the meaning or the message behind it all.

Mapping the Interior can be found on GoodReads or ordered on Amazon and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good horror story now and then.

Can’t Wait Wednesday: The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

Title: The Only Good Indians The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

Author:  Stephen Graham Jones

Publisher: Gallery / Saga Press

Genre: Horror

Length: 320 Pages

Release Date: May 19, 2020

Blurb: Peter Straub’s Ghost Story meets Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies in this American Indian horror story of revenge on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.

Four American Indian men from the Blackfeet Nation, who were childhood friends, find themselves in a desperate struggle for their lives, against an entity that wants to exact revenge upon them for what they did during an elk hunt ten years earlier by killing them, their families, and friends.

Why I’m Excited for It: I think I included Jones in a couple posts recently, and he’ll be featured in an upcoming review, but I recently read Mapping the Interior and I absolutely cannot get that book out of my head.  I liked his prose from the moment I picked it up, and while I wouldn’t necessarily call the plot fast paced, the pacing was appropriate to the length.

Then I got to the ending, and I was just so disturbed by it, my initial reaction was: “I don’t know if I like this.”  But since I’ve put it down, I keep turning it over and over, trying to suss out the meaning and what happened.  Now I feel a need to go binge everything he’s ever written, and this story is no different.

My excitement at finding a possible new favorite author aside, this blurb sounds perfect for a horror story.  Vengeful entities and old secrets between friends?  Yes please.

Book Review: Gamechanger by L.X. Beckett

Gamechanger L. X. Beckett

Rating:  ★★★

This turned out to be a frustrating read for me.  Mostly because I wanted so badly to love it, and because there were so many brilliant ideas.  Ultimately, I found it chaotic and unsatisfying.

We’re given all these awesome ideas- immediate and public social justice, a world that seems relatively free of judgement concerning race and gender, cool tech, small jobs and volunteer work on the fly, virtual assistant AI, gaming, world wide democracy, etc.  The world building in Gamechanger is almost as impressive as another personal favorite of mine: Too Like the Lightning.

But the plot has way too much going on, and none of it ever seems to come together into a cohesive story.  While I was trying to jot down some thoughts after finishing, I counted about nine separate plot lines, with only about four or five of them being tied together.  I think ultimately it was a book that just needed more planning and a tighter editing.

The conclusion is rushed and messy. I kept waiting for that Aha! Moment to pull all those separate plot lines together – but it never happened.  There never felt like a good reason to have all these separate stories being told together in the same book.  I wanted some clever reveal, the curtain drawn back, the wizard revealed.  Instead we’re left with some silly fairy tale “And they all lived happily ever after” nonsense with no real explanations given.

The world building was definitely my favorite part, but I also wanted to mention it is #ownvoices with queer representation.  If you think you’d like to give it a try, Gamechanger can be found on Goodreads or Amazon.

November: Native American Heritage Month

November is Native American Heritage Month!  I realize it’s also Sci-Fi month, and I would have loved to do a post dedicated just to Native American Science Fiction, but sadly I could only find a couple of authors, so I am broadening this to include Fantasy.

I do plan to read a couple books this month by Native American authors- and I wanted to share some of the ones on my TBR, and a couple books I’ve already read, in case anyone else is planning on checking out some Native American authors also.

Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse

Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse – This is the second book in Roanhorse’s Sixth World series.  I did struggle a bit with Trail of Lightning, there were some things I wanted explained a little better and the plot was more loose than I would have liked, but the world building and mythology were all really cool!  Maggie Hoskie is a monster hunter in a post apocalyptic world.  I would like to continue the series some time.  I do suggest everyone check out Roanhorse’s short story, Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience, which is one of the more brilliant works of short fiction I’ve read in the past couple years.

Love Beyond Body Space and Time by Hope Nicholson

Love Beyond Body, Space & Time Edited by Hope Nichols – This is an anthology about Native American two-spirit characters.  I will be honest and say I’m not sure if 100% of the stories are #ownvoices, but I believe at least one of them is.  It was put up for a couple of literary awards last year, which is how it made it on to my radar.

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline – This has also been on my radar for a year or so.  It’s a YA novel set in a future world ravaged by climate change.  Everyone with the exception of Native Americans have lost the ability to dream, and their marrow holds the cure for the non-dreamers.  Now they are being hunted down and made into unwilling marrow donors.  I think I’ve been putting it off, because it sounds really dark, but it’s fairly highly rated on GoodReads, and has won several literary awards.

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich – Another #ownvoices book about a world where babies are stillborn due to genetic deformities making them very large and difficult to birth.  The term the book used is “reverse evolution”.  We are shown the story of Cedar Hawk Songmaker as she is pregnant, and must hide it from the wider world, lest she be abducted and her (hopefully healthy) baby stolen.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t a good book for me, because the ending was largely ambiguous, which I dislike, but I wanted to share because it has the potential to be an excellent book for someone else.

Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko

Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko – This is also #ownvoices!  I have no excuse for not having read it yet, since I actually do own this one.  This is a fantasy retelling of the history of Native American people told from the POV of Native people.

Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones

Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones – Stephen Graham Jones has been popping up on my radar quite a bit with his upcoming release: The Only Good Indians (which looks amazing!).  In the meantime, I plan to read this novella about a boy haunted by the ghost of his father.

Flight by Sherman Alexie

Flight by Sherman Alexie – About a young boy of Native American heritage that is flung backward through time as he is about to commit an act of violence.  I am hoping to get to this sometime this month, along with a couple others mentioned above.

Are you planning on reading any of these?  Do you have any other Native American authors to recommend?

 

Three Mini Book Reviews

I am way behind on my book reviews and just my blogging in general.  Can you tell?  Luckily with an added day in my weekend I might finally catch up.  So I apologize for the double posts.  A couple of these are just quick DNF reviews.  I just wanted to note down something about them in case they come up again later- writing the reviews helps me remember the book

Quichotte by Salman Rushdie

This was a DNF for me so I’m not going to rate it.  This was my first experience with Rushdie, and while I think he’s a talented writer, his style is just not for me.

Quichotte is a retelling of Don Quixote, about a lonely pharmaceutical salesman who imagines a son into existence.  The son’s imagined mother is a soap opera star, who’s never met Quichotte in her life.

The story actually was starting to get interesting at about the time I quit, and I think in any other year, when I hadn’t already been so frustrated by my reading, I would have continued.  But Quichotte has the misfortune of coming after already having read two McCarthy books, and while this topic isn’t nearly as dark as anything McCarthy’s put out, their styles are very similar.  These sentences just run on and on and on…

To the point where I’d have to reread the sentence or paragraph to pull out the meaning.  The chapters are also very long, and the first six or seven chapters all introduce a new POV.  I just wasn’t in the mood for this kind of story.  As I said, it was starting to get interesting when I stopped, but with how busy I am I couldn’t make myself focus enough to read it quickly and I had other things I would rather have been reading.  So I quit.

I made it to about page 100 before I stopped.  I might pick it up again someday when I am in the mood.  Thank you to the publisher who sent an ARC in exchange for review.  Quichotte can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.

The Outside by Ada Hoffman

This book and I were not a match right from the start.  I think somewhere on the first page it mentions that AI are treated as gods in this world.  I just really hate that premise. I know I’m going to come off as naive here, in our increasingly connected world, but couldn’t you just unplug the damn thing?  Doesn’t an AI that big need a warehouse full of servers?  Maybe not in the future I guess.  I don’t know.

Either way, there has to be some agreement on the part of humans to worship such an entity, and it just isn’t something I can relate to.

Adding to that was dialogue that I felt was very stiff and awkward, and characters and a story I just wasn’t being grabbed by.  This was a group read for the Sci Fi Fantasy Book Club, so I was able to spoil the book for myself and see if it was something worth continuing.  **SPOILERS**  In doing so, I learned that the book eventually goes on to discuss self harming cults of AI worshippers, another big fat NOPE from me.  (See my review of Ancestral Night.)

It gets points for being a neurodiverse #ownvoices book, and if Hoffman goes on to write more, I’d happily give her another try.  This particular book was just all wrong for me, but if it sounds like something you might enjoy, you can find it on GoodReads or Amazon.

Alone by Chaboute

Rating:  ★★★★

This is a graphic novel I heard about a year or two ago, that I recently discovered sitting on the shelves of a library that’s out of my way and don’t often go to.  Whichever review I saw spoke very highly of it.

The story itself is really sad, about a person living all alone in a lighthouse, because his parents, now deceased, once warned him the world would not be kind to a man who looked like him (he has physical deformities).  He spends his days dropping the dictionary open, reading definitions, and imagining himself in scenarios related to the word he opened to.  He goes through periods where he is seemingly okay with his life, and periods of depression and sadness.

Although the story seems terribly depressing, it is a story full of hope, and one I think everyone who’s ever been lonely, or down on themselves, could relate to.  My only real complaint here is that I wished at least some of the artwork had been done in color.

While I think the black and white art was adding to the bleakness and the tone of the book, part of the appeal of reading a graphic novel is seeing all the bright colors and pretty pictures.  And while they were well drawn, telling this story predominantly through pictures and almost no words, I found myself wishing for a little color.

Alone can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.

Book Review: A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Williams

I am still slogging my way through The Queens of Innis Lear.  I’d DNF it but right now it feels like a battle I need to win.  Hoping to get it done this weekend.  So in the meantime, I haven’t been very motivated to read much else.

I did quickly squeeze in A Taste of Honey for a buddy read though.  This was part of Tor.com’s free novella offerings for Pride Month. Did you know they give away a free book every month?  You can visit that page here, and download a copy of The Murders of Molly Southborne by Tade Thompson for free until June 29th.

A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson

Rating:  ★★★

Blurb (from GoodReads): Aqib bgm Sadiqi, fourth-cousin to the royal family and son of the Master of Beasts, has more mortal and pressing concerns. His heart has been captured for the first time by a handsome Daluçan soldier named Lucrio. In defiance of Saintly Canon, gossiping servants, and the furious disapproval of his father and brother, Aqib finds himself swept up in a whirlwind romance. But neither Aqib nor Lucrio know whether their love can survive all the hardships the world has to throw at them.

This is told in three parts.  Part one I enjoyed a lot.  It’s lets the reader see how Aqib and Lucrio first meet and was a great set up for the romance.  It was pretty hard not to ship these two right from the start.  Part two I struggled with.  It’s told in alternating timelines that jump all over the place.  There’s a reason for it, but it doesn’t make it any easier to digest.  Part three is about the same length as part one and gives us the conclusion.

A lot of the time during part two I was frustrated.  I read a quote from another reviewer once (that I can’t find now, so this quote isn’t exact so I can’t credit correctly) that said something along the lines of: “There are two great sins an author can commit when writing a book: failing to meet expectations, or failing to set them.  Of those two, failing to set them is far worse.”  (Seriously, not exact- Google gives me nothing.)  I had been struggling with this in some stories for years, and never had words for it until I read that.

I feel like A Taste of Honey very much fails to set any expectations for the reader.  Throughout the entirety of part two I was just wondering why I was being told this story. I didn’t feel glued to the page or compelled to keep reading.  I can’t explain why without spoilers- but I will say that the plot of this story is not: Aqib and Lucrio must overcome  the prejudices against gay men in their society and amongst Aqib’s family in order to be together and get a HEA.  Is that a pretty straightforward and rather generic romance plot?  Yeah. It is.  But it comes with the suspense built in.  And readers would have read this story based on that alone, because these characters were fantastic, the world building was unique, and their relationship was beautiful.

Instead we’re given something else entirely that feels more like the saga of a man who’s life has big dramatic events, but in which he has no agency to change things.  Therefore there is no suspense.

The world building is super unique and I loved the parts with the animals.  Although magic isn’t really my thing, there do seem to be some vague rules about the system and that too, felt unique.  If you’re the kind of reader who enjoys piecing together the information about the world for themselves, this may be a great choice for you.

I’m not going to spoil anything, so I’m not going to set any expectations for you either, but if you can slog it through the middle to get to the end it does make up for some of the slow going middle parts.  A few of the other buddies that read this enjoyed it much more than I did so if you like, we can all just blame that other book I’m reading for putting me in a bad mood.

A Taste of Honey can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.

Have you read this book?  What did you think of it?

 

Pride Month: Books on my TBR!

Last week in celebration of Pride Month I talked about some of my favorite queer characters in fiction.  This week I want to talk about some of the books on my TBR featuring more LGBTQIA+ characters.  I’m going to start with a few that have already been released and I’m hoping to catch up on, but I also have some exciting future releases too.

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (and the rest of The Machineries of Empire series):  I am really scared to start this because I feel really confident that I’m going to love it and it will end up a new favorite read.  I am also scared to start this because I have a tendency to form expectations and then let myself down.  It’s supposed to be super complex and I’m hoping to see some elements that remind me of another favorite series, Terra Ignota.

tld_cs

The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling:  My favorite genre mashup of all time is always going to be Science Fiction and Horror, and The Luminous Dead looks like the perfect combo of both.  I think space lends itself so very well to all kinds of horror situations.  Whether you’re just trying to survive the freezing desolate landscape of an undiscovered planet, being chased by alien creatures, or you’re adrift in a derelict space ship with no one to call for help, chances are, things will end badly.  I already have a buddy read planned for this one in September and I can’t wait!

Annex by Rich Larson

Annex (The Violet Wars #1) by Rich Larson:  This is a YA book about an alien invasion that somehow or other, leaves the world without adults.  At first, Violet and her friends think it’s pretty great to have so much freedom… but then the invaders come back.  One of my regular buddy readers enjoyed it and said it has trans rep (and that the character was one of her favorites), so I’m very excited to check it out. (PSA: this is currently $1.99 in the US Kindle Store as of 6/13.)

Love beyond body, space & time anthology

Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time Anthology edited by Hope Nicholson: This is a collection of indigenous short fiction all featuring LGBTQ+ characters.  It’s a pretty quick read (125 pages according to GoodReads) and I picked it up on sale awhile back.  Indigenous authors seem to be severely underrepresented in not only speculative fiction but fiction in general, so that makes this doubly exciting.

The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne

The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne: Meena lives in futuristic Mumbai, but feels she must return to Ethiopia, her birthplace.  She’s not sure what’s waiting for her there, but she decides to cross using a forbidden energy bridge that spans the Arabian Sea.  Mariama, a girl from another time, is fleeing to Ethiopia from across the Saharan Africa in hopes of finding a better life.  It’s described as melding the influences of Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, and Erin Morgenstern, and it’s been on my TBR for way too long.

The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch

The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch:  This is a Joan of Arc retelling in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic landscape.  Do I really need to say more?

The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht

The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht (releases September 24, 2019): I talked about this one not too long ago, but I love the idea of lovers being villains together.    This is quickly becoming one of my most anticipated fall releases.

Overthrow by Caleb Crain

Overthrow by Caleb Crain (releases August 27, 2019): I stumbled across this on Edelweiss, and everything about the description had me falling in love.  The blurb is too long to summarize here, but buzzwords that caught my attention: telepathy, tarot cards, poets, the 1%, and utopian spirit, all featuring a m/m relationship that will be put to the test in a dystopian world that sounds similar to Orwell’s 1984.  Viking denied me the ARC, but luckily, August isn’t that far away.

Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim

Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim (releases January 7, 2020):  A gender flipped Count of Monte Christo retelling with Ace and Bisexual rep in space.  I have a feeling this will be huge when it finally hits shelves.  Right now, January feels very, very far away.

The Seep by Chana Porter

The Seep by Chana Porter (releases January 21, 2020): The Seep is about an alien invasion that brings new technologies, dismantles hierarchies, destroys capitalism, and introduces utopia.  The story follows a trans woman after her wife, seduced by Seep-tech, leaves her.  I really wish utopian stories had the same popularity as dystopians.  Mostly because I’m curious what others imagine utopia to be and how human society could ever get there.  I’m super excited for this, but have been holding off reading it until closer to release day.

Lady Hotspur by Tessa Gratton

Lady Hotspur by Tessa Gratton (releases January 7, 2020):  I am reading The Queens of Innis Lear now, sheerly in preparation for this book, which I added entirely for the title without realizing that Hotspur is a character in Shakespeare’s Henry IV.  Fiery lady knight falls in love with a female military commander known as the Wolf of Aremoria?  I need this in my hands like, yesterday.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (releases September 10, 2019):  From GoodReads: “Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.”  To that I say, sold!  I’m already in love with the personality of Gideon from that one line alone.  Necromancy is usually not my thing, but if a character is well written I’ll read just about anything.  It’s already getting rave reviews and thank goodness I don’t have to wait until 2020 for this one!

That’s it!  I’ve already seen a few Pride Month TBRs floating around in the blogosphere, but please let me know if you have any additional recs- I’d love to hear them!

Book Review: Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Rating:  ★★★★

Friday Black is a debut collection of short fiction from Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah.  Some of the stories are what I’d classify as literary fiction, but many of them are also speculative.  His writing is flawless, and the stories pull no punches.  It’s dark, bold, and incredibly relevant.  Adjei-Brenyah’s stories largely explore race and systemic racism, consumerism, and the violence entrenched in our culture.

Having worked a few Black Friday’s myself, when I saw the book I knew I had to read it.  This is satire at its finest, but it’s sad because all of the stories hold so much truth.  This book is quick, and could probably be read in a day, but I found myself putting it down between stories to think on them.

“Emmanuel started learning the basics of his Blackness before he knew how to do long division: smiling when angry, whispering when he wanted to yell.”

“The Finkelstein 5” is the title of the first story.  It’s explosive, and was an excellent opener.  It hooks you in from the start.  The MC, Emmanuel, talks about how one of the first things his father taught him was to dial down his blackness by adjusting his clothes, his mannerisms, his language.  Meanwhile, a white man is on trial for the brutal murder of five black children, and the world waits to see whether he is found guilty or innocent.  What’s so terrifying about this story, is how many times we’ve already seen it in the news.  I won’t spoil it any further, but it’s a story I think everyone should read. 5/5 stars

“Things My Mother Said” is super short but absolutely beautiful.  He manages to get his point across in a page and a half.  Read it, then call your mother and tell her you love her. Another 5 star read.

“Back then, everyone was a liar.”

“The Era” was interesting.  In a dystopian world, people no longer have feelings.  Those with feelings have to take drugs to stop having feelings in order not to “cloud their truth” with emotion.  You can call your teacher a fat slob and he’ll shrug it off.  Telling the truth is highly encouraged.  Overall, I enjoyed it. 4/5 stars

“Lark Steet” was my least favorite story in the book.  It’s about abortion.  I’m not sure what the author was arguing for/against here.  I felt icky after I read it and I had to put the book down for a day or two after that.  2/5 stars

“Nothing is more boring than a happy ending.”

“The Hospital Where” was a good one.  It employed magical realism instead of straight up fantasy.  It was weird and wonderful all at once.  At times it felt like being stuck in a surrealist painting.  I interpreted it as an allegory for the impact of writing and the writing process, but it also felt like a love letter to writing. 4/5 stars

“Zimmer Land” is about a theme park where people can act out their most violent fantasies and pretend they are heroes.  I was reminded a lot of Rebecca Roanhorse’s “Welcome to your Authentic Indian Experience.”  I thought Adjei-Brenyah’s story started stronger but I think Roanhorse’s finished stronger (to be fair, that would have been a difficult ending to beat).  4/5 stars

I’ve seen somebody step on someone else to get the jeans on a Black Friday…How did you decide to step on a human being to get a pair of jeans?”*

“Friday Black” the story for which the book is named, made me laugh.  Not because it’s funny- really it’s not.  It made me laugh because I find the whole Black Friday business pretty disgusting, and I’d rather laugh than cry.  I’ve been on the front lines of that battle.  At 1:00 AM.  Because some retail genius somewhere thought Christmas shopping at 1:00 AM seemed totally reasonable. 5/5 stars

“The Lion & the Spider” incorporates a tale of Anansi the spider alongside the tale of a boy who’s father has gone missing.  It took me right up until the end to see what either had to do with the other, but I absolutely loved the ending, so I won’t spoil it.  This was one of the more hopeful stories in the book. 5/5 stars

“He brings the comb to his head.  Yes.  Each strand of hair will shine, slick and erect.  The mane of a battle-ready soldier.  Oh, he will look good for the annihilation.”

“Light Spitter” is a story about a school shooting that also employs magical realism.  I’m a little undecided on where I stand with this one.  I was less moved by this story than others, but I enjoyed the themes and metaphors here more than some of the other stories.  3/5 stars

“How to Sell a Jacket as Told by Ice King” is another retail themed story. I believe it is a continuation of Friday Black.  I did enjoy it- but I think it’s more because I liked the Ice King’s character than anything else.  Themes in this story pertain to consumerism, but it fell a little short of the first piece. 4/5 stars

“In retail, if you don’t wanna be a Lucy, you gotta find ways to make the bleak a little better.”

“In Retail” is another retail story, following the same character.  I adored this one too.  It talks about how sometimes, there can be good days in retail.  In retail, most customers won’t appreciate you, but sometimes you get one who is truly grateful.  It was probably the most relatable story of the bunch for me.  It also included a funny tidbit about a Spanish teacher that made me laugh out loud.  4/5 stars

“Through the Flash” returns to the science fiction side of things.  People live the same day over and over again.  They can do different things each day, but no matter what happens, when they wake up, it’s the same day.  I fell in love with Ama’s character, and I thought it was a good way to close out the book. 4/5 stars

Overall, it’s a dark collection that’s been balanced with dark humor.  I very much enjoyed it and I’ll definitely be checking out Adjei-Brenyah’s future work.  I’d love to see what he could do with a full length novel.  Friday Black can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.

*Quote from the author, borrowed from a NY Times article about the book written by Alexandra Alter (link here).  Check it out- it was awesome!

Content warnings:  I’m just going to go with a blanket statement here and say that if you need them, this probably isn’t the book for you.