13. April 2015 · Write a comment · Categories: Adult Books, Courtney, Short Stories

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman, 310 pages, read by Courtney, on 03/23/2015

Gaiman’s newest book is exactly what you might expect. It’s a collection of short stories and poems that exemplify his style. An introduction explains the title (though I am of the opinion that pretty much any Gaiman story written for an audience older than small children could easily be titled similarly) and individually addresses the origins of each of the works contained in the book. It’s kind of nice to have those bits of commentary in the beginning. I was a little surprised to find that I had already read a couple of the stories in other contexts (“The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains” – in its stand-alone format with illustrations- and “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury”). It turns out that all of the stories have been published elsewhere, which was slightly disappointing. I suppose it is nice to have them all collected rather than attempting to track them all down individually. There’s a lot of variance in tone and subject, though they are all still distinctly “Gaiman”. I was extra-happy about the final story, “Black Dog”, which takes place in the American Gods universe. I wouldn’t recommend this for the new-to-Gaiman reader, but for long-time fans, it’s quite the treat.
13. April 2015 · Write a comment · Categories: Courtney, Historical Fiction, Paranormal, Teen Books

Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier, 320 pages, read by Courtney, on 03/18/2015

1932, Sydney: the Australian government has outlawed guns, so gangsters have perfected the art of killing with razors. The most dangerous part of town, Razorhurst, is home to two rival gangs known for their ruthlessness.
Kelpie has been living on the streets for years. How many, she’s not sure. She doesn’t even know how old she is nor does she know her parents. She was raised by Old Ma until Old Ma died. Then Kelpie was raised by Old Ma’s ghost. Now, Kelpie knows enough not to trust every ghost she meets, but heads into the boarding house looking for the apples a local ghost had promised were there. Instead of apples, Kelpie finds a young woman standing over her sliced-up boyfriend. That young woman is Dymphna Campbell, Razorhurst’s top prostitute, also known as the “Angel of Death” since none of her boyfriends seem to survive. She works for the infamous Gloriana Nelson, one of the two crime bosses that have given their Sydney neighborhood its name. Dymphna and Kelpie could not possibly be any more different, but they have one major characteristic in common: they can both see and hear ghosts. Dymphna has been successful in hiding her ability; even ghosts don’t realize she can see them. Kelpie believes she’s the only one who sees them, but she’s at least learned not to speak to them in the company of other living folks. The dead man that Kelpie and Dymphna meet over is Glory’s top standover man and Dymphna’s boyfriend. And his ghost will not shut up. Kelpie wants no more to do with these people, but Dymphna has actually been hoping to meet Kelpie for a long time. Dymphna intends to take Kelpie under her wing and help to navigate life with their unique shared ability. Kelpie helps to get Dymphna away from authorities as they arrive to investigate the dead body. The girls then embark on a tense, day-long mission to elude Mr. Davidson and the authorities while not making anything worse for Glory. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll both have lives left to salvage at the end of the day.
I loved, loved, loved this book. Not only did I get to read about an era of history that I knew literally nothing about, but the story itself was great. It’s hard not to be a little wary of historical fiction that uses a supernatural element, but in this case, the ghost aspect was fascinating. The writing was fantastic; its use of period slang genuinely emphasized the sense of place. Kelpie and Dymphna are both amazing and complex characters. Even the secondary characters are fleshed out (without slowing down the plot any). The pacing is swift, especially since the entire book’s action takes place within a 24-hour time span. It never sacrifices its integrity for the sake of brevity, however. Instead, it is refreshingly concise. One gets the sense that there’s not a single wasted word. This may not be a book for everyone, but for those looking for an experience both educational and entertaining, Razorhurst will be a rare treat.

13. April 2015 · Write a comment · Categories: Adult Books, Courtney, Fiction, Graphic Novel

Ant Colony by Michael DeForge, 112 pages, read by Courtney, on 03/14/2015

This is, by far, one of the strangest graphic novels I have ever read. As the title implies, it is about an ant colony. Or, more specifically, the collapse of an ant colony. The narrative follows several ants: a homosexual pair of males, an adolescent ant and his amoral father, a police officer with the gift of meta-narrative and an infertile female ant (only the queen is fertile in the black ant colony). Things get particularly weird when the spiders come to the area. The fluids produced by the mating spiders have a hallucinogenic effect on a red ant colony which causes them to begin attacking the black ants. In the meantime, the adolescent ant has accidentally ingested powered earthworm and subsequently gained prophetic powers. The adolescent ant’s amoral father has decided it would be entertaining to destroy the egg sacks he’s supposed to be guarding. War breaks out amongst the two ant colonies, which leaves the anthill all but abandoned. The brutal war kills off most of the ants, leaving the survivors to strike out on their own.
DeForge’s artwork is totally unique. Yes, each insect is identifiable, but they’re not depicted in the way in which we’re used to seeing them drawn. The spiders have a distinctly wolfish quality to them and appear to have ingested far too many stimulants. The centipede has taken on the form of a stretch limo. The black ants are distinguished amongst one and other by the bumps on their heads and their colorful, visible internal organs. And then there are the bees…. The best way I can think of to describe this book is that it’s a bit like an ant-based version of Watership Down – on peyote. It’s crazy. It’s funny. It’s confusing. It’s kind of brilliant.

13. April 2015 · Write a comment · Categories: Courtney, Teen Books

Eden West by Pete Hautman, 320 pages, read by Courtney, on 03/13/2015

Seventeen-year-old Jacob lives a life very different from the average American teen.  He’s spent his entire life living in the same twelve square miles of rural Montana, a fenced-in compound known as “Nodd” or “Eden West”.  He’s a member of a group called the Grace, an insular cult that has its members awaiting the arrival of archangel Zerachiel who will spare them all the horrors of the apocalypse.  Jacob is dutiful and devoted to his faith, but things cease to be simple for him when he meets the teenaged daughter of the rancher whose land is adjacent to Nodd. Contact with outsiders is discouraged, but Jacob can’t help but be intrigued.  Around the same time, a new family joins the Grace.  This new family includes a boy who is around Jacob’s age, Tobias.  Tobias is less-than-thrilled to have been uprooted and moved to the compound by his mother and sister. Jacob attempts to introduce Tobias to the ways of the Grace, but he soon finds that indoctrination of the unwilling is harder that it seems.  Complicating matters even more is the appearance of a wolf who has been attacking the sheep tended by the Grace.  Is Jacob’s faith strong enough to adapt to these new changes or will the outside world eventually win out?
Questioning faith is not a particularly new topic for Pete Hautman to tackle, but when he does, he really does it well.  Jacob is a surprisingly sympathetic character.  Readers will rarely, if ever, agree with his assessment of the outside world, but the struggles he undertakes are familiar just the same.  Interesting thematic components round out what is otherwise a fairly straight-forward, coming-of-age tale. Secondary characters are well-developed and provide a fascinating contrast to the youth of Nodd.  Issues of faith are treated with sensitivity and never feel forced.  This would make a great discussion book for older readers.
I received an ARC of this book from the publisher.  I am not in any way compensated for a favorable review (other than my own personal edification).

13. April 2015 · Write a comment · Categories: Adult Books, Courtney, Graphic Novel, Teen Books

Ms. Marvel, Volume One: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson, 120 pages, read by Courtney, on 03/08/2015

What’s not to love about this graphic novel? Kamala is a teenager living in Jersey City. Her life revolves around her family, her faith (Islam) and her love of superheroes. She’s a bit of a fan-girl, really. She dreams of a more exciting life, but her super-strict parents are quick to ground her whenever she gets even remotely out-of-line. In a classic teenager move, Kamala sneaks out to go to a party hosted by some of the popular kids at school. Quickly realizing that these kids would prefer to poke fun at her Muslim upbringing than actually be her friend, Kamala takes off on her own. All of a sudden, something mysterious happens. A strange fog rolls in, causing Kamala to pass out. She has a vision of superheroes speaking to her which ultimately ends up in Kamala becoming the new Ms. Marvel. Kamala now has shape-shifting powers that she’s not exactly sure how to execute on command, which makes for some entertaining scenes. It also serves to further complicate her relationship with her parents as Kamala becomes determined to live up to her new (secret)moniker.
I’m definitely interested to see where this series goes. Kamala is a great character; she’s easy to relate to and is absolutely likeable. The very idea of a Muslim-American teenaged girl superhero is pretty progressive, though that aspect is almost over-done in this comic. The art and writing are great and the storyline is thoroughly entertaining. Highly recommended.

06. February 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Courtney, Graphic Novel, Science Fiction

Saga, Vol. 4 by Brian K. Vaughan, 144 pages, read by Courtney, on 01/27/2015

This comic continues to blow me away with its magnificence. If you’re a fan of comics, sci-fi, or even just well-written/plotted stories, do yourself a favor and start reading Saga, post-haste! It’s sooo good.
06. February 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Historical Fiction, Teen Books

Like Water On Stone by Dana Walrath, 368 pages, read by Courtney, on 01/25/2015

1914, Ottoman Empire: The Donabedian family members have a good life. They mill grain, grow grapes and spend warm summer evenings playing music with friends and neighbors on the rooftop. Unbeknownst to the younger family members, unrest is brewing and their lives are about to change forever. The three youngest siblings are the stars of this story. There’s Shahen, who dreams of moving to America, Sosi, Shahen’s twin sister, who has recently fallen in love with a local boy, and Mariam, the five-year-old baby of the family. As political discontent grows, neighbors advise the family to leave, but their father firmly believes that their Turkish and Kurdish friends will help protect them from the soldiers. Unfortunately, things begin getting bad very quickly. The eldest sons are arrested and later massacred along with other men of fighting age from the village. One night, word comes that violence is on its way. The parents make the brave and devastating decision to send their remaining children off into the night. The three siblings then begin an epic journey over the mountains with little more than the clothes on their backs. All along, an eagle keeps watch over the family and helps to keep the children safe as they hide from soldiers and traverse the unforgiving mountainous landscape.
This novel-in-verse is one of the more heart-wrenching tales I’ve read in recent memory. It’s also the first time I’ve read any fiction about the Armenian Genocide of 1915. This family’s story is heartbreaking, but even worse is the knowledge that these children were the lucky ones. They manage to escape the worst of the violence and are spared from seeing what happens to their parents (though we do, thanks to our friend, the eagle). Since this novel is written in verse, it moves very quickly. The language is beautiful, even if the subject matter is not. The narrative cycles through each of the siblings in addition to the eagle. Readers will breathlessly turn the pages to see what happens to these kids. The inclusion of the eagle adds a touch of magic realism, as well as an effective quasi-omniscient narrator. The end of the book includes an author’s note, a glossary and a list of resources for further exploration of this horrific historical event.
06. February 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Apocalyptic, Courtney, Graphic Novel, Science Fiction, Teen Books

The Wrenchies by Farel Dalrymple, 304 pages, read by Courtney, on 01/24/2015

This is one of those books that really doesn’t lend itself well to summarizing, but I’ll do my best. There are several groups of characters that exist in several different dimensions (realities?). We have our world, with two of the main characters. Then there’s the world of the Wrenchies, a post-apocalyptic wasteland where only the children are technically “safe” from the Shadowsmen, a terrifying entity that attacks anyone “of age” with the purpose of turning their victims into more Shadowsmen. Then there’s yet another dimension with super-heroic adult versions of the Wrenchies as portrayed in the Wrenchies comic book that appears in each of the first two dimensions (our world and the Wrenchies’). The story began a few decades ago when a pair of brothers enter a cave and encounter one of the Shadowsmen. The story picks up later when one of the brothers is an adult living next door to an adolescent boy named Hollis. Hollis doesn’t fit in well with his peers. He wears a superhero outfit everywhere he goes and would prefer to be in his fictional worlds rather than the real one. He finds a totem hovering in the air outside his window and jumps to grab it. He’s then pulled into the world of the Wrenchies, who regard him with a sense of wonder and include him in their group without question. As things get weirder, a character known as “The Scientist” pulls the heroes in through a portal similar to the one Hollis came through. Now they all need to work together to defeat the scourge of Shadowsmen who are also taking advantage of the rifts between dimensions.
There’s a lot of unusual stuff going on in this graphic novel and it’s occasionally hard to explain exactly what’s happening, which means it’s not for everyone. It’s very gritty and violent, which one might expect from roving bands of armed children wandering around a post-apocalyptic world. The treatment of the kids is simultaneously disturbing and heart-warming. In spite of the extreme violence that comprises daily life in the world of the Wrenchies, the bonds they create amongst each other are strong and true. Add in some interesting philosophical dilemmas and you have a thoroughly fascinating, if somewhat disorienting, story. The artwork is lavishly detailed and full-color, making this a graphic novel you can really sink your teeth into. In fact, repeated reads may be required to fully appreciate the experience. I have a feeling one would notice something new upon each read.

06. February 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Paranormal, Teen Books

(Don't You) Forget About Me by Kate Karyus Quinn, 336 pages, read by Courtney, on 01/22/2015

Gardnerville is not like any town you’ve been in before. Not only is it so remote that it’s only accessible via train (and that only within the last few decades), its residents never get sick and they live far longer than the average person. Prospective residents travel from far and wide for a chance to live within the confines of Gardnerville; the only people accepted are those with life-threatening illnesses. In that sense, Gardnerville is a life-saving town. Something of a paradise. But nothing comes without a price and this town is no exception. There’s a four-year cycle of escalating calamity. In a first year, someone might be mad at someone else and accidentally turn them into an animal. In a forth year, one might see the kind of catastrophe that befell Skylar’s family. Skylar’s sister, Piper, led dozens of the town’s teens on a midnight parade down to the railroad bridge where they all proceeded to jump, many of them to their deaths. Piper now resides in the town’s correctional facility, a place known for taking in troublemakers and turning out hollowed-out husks of human beings. Skylar’s pretty sure that’s where Piper is, anyway.
As the book opens, it’s another fourth year. It’s also late in the year, which is making everyone extra nervous. Skylar’s been living in a drug-fueled haze ever since Piper went away. She takes a pill made from some of the Forget-Me-Not flowers that grow in Gardnerville. Within minutes of taking them, Skylar begins to forget. When she isn’t under the influence of the pills, she’s wishing she had more. Something is nagging at her though. She keeps finding the tape recorder that she and Piper used to use when they were kids. It’s not the only reminder of Piper that she keeps stumbling across, which makes her decide that it’s time to start remembering so that she can get her sister out of the correctional facility and start addressing some of the town’s darker secrets.
There is so much going on in this book that it’s really difficult to summarize. The mythology of the town itself is a bit messy and explanations come very late. Skylar is an unreliably narrator since she’s constantly taking the pills to forget everything. The main narrative alternates with flashbacks that are presumably recorded onto the tape recorder that seems to turn up wherever Skylar has been. The people that surround Skylar don’t seem any more reliable than she does, which only adds to the disorientation.
While I generally love oddball books, this one was just a little too convoluted to make me fall head-over-heels. I did enjoy it, but even with all the craziness, I was able to figure out the major twist, so that was kind of disappointing. I can’t help but think that the confusion is just a bit over the top. It takes forever for the book to get to the point and when there is exposition, it comes in big chunks rather than being seamlessly intertwined with the plot. I had a like/hate relationship with Skylar, who frequently frustrates as she continually drugs herself. She never asks the questions the readers want her to ask and it feels as though she alone is the one dragging out the plot. Still, the concept was intriguing and the writing was decent. Adventurous and patient readers will likely find this entertaining.

06. February 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Dystopia, Graphic Novel, Horror, Science Fiction, Teen Books

Deadman Wonderland, Vol. 6 by Jinsei Kataoka, 212 pages, read by Courtney, on 01/14/2015

In yet another brutal and intriguing volume, Shiro tries to learn how to cook in order to cheer up Ganta, who has sunk into a deep depression.  It doesn’t really work.  In the aftermath of the prison break, the warden moves things in a new direction.  It is decided that the public will now be shown what “monsters” the Deadmen are.  Behind the scenes, prison officials are now turning regular prisoners into brain-washed Deadmen.  Every time anything gets better in this series, something devastating is sure to follow.  Still, very imaginative, if a bit disturbing.

By the time this book even starts, Kit has had an interesting life. As an orphan, he was picked up by a traveling circus and was known for his show riding before his age hit the double digits. Times changed though and Kit gave up the circus circuit for a more stable life as a servant to a nobleman. Life is uneventful until one night, when his master comes back to the house late at night, bleeding out from bullet wounds. As it turns out, the kind man that Kit thought was a relatively normal fellow is actually one of the most notorious highwayman in the country. In an attempt to go and seek help, Kit dons the clothes his master, Whistling Jack, grabs his French Bulldog, Demon and flees on his horse, Midnight. Jack instructed Kit to go and find a witch in the woods right before scrawling out an indecipherable will. After a daring escape that nearly gets Kit killed, he manages to stumble upon the very woman he was supposed to find. The witch informs him that he must now finish his master’s quest, which involves a number of fantastical beings whose existence was previously unknown to Kit. Kit tries to refuse, but since not completely the quest will end in his death, Kit has no real choice to but to comply. The quest? To rescue a fairy princess who is betrothed to the King of England. Finding the princess is easy. Getting her to cooperate is another matter altogether. Dodging both human and fairy enemies, Kit and Princess Morgana have little more than their wits to rely on as they seek safe passage to neutral territory.
This swashbuckling adventure story is a little bit slow to start with, but picks up steam as the main characters reveal themselves. The plot is very involved and the pacing is a bit quirky. Real historical details add a realistic edge to an otherwise whimsical tale. The occasional footnote provides clarifications primarily of the historical nature. Throughout are illustrations of various scenes and characters. The timing of the illustrations can be disruptive from time to time, but they’re a nice overall addition. There’s a lot of clever wordplay, though some of the vernacular may confuse younger readers. Fans of fantasy or historical adventure won’t be disappointed.

04. February 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Dystopia, Graphic Novel, Teen Books

Deadman Wonderland by Jinsei Kataoka, 224 pages, read by Courtney, on 01/13/2015

After the failure of their last attempt at getting a data chip out of Deadman Wonderland, Scar Chain regroups and tries again.  Ganta decides to try training and Shiro remains…well, Shiro.  DMW remains one of the darker and more intriguing manga series I’ve come across in recent memory.

04. February 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Courtney, Graphic Novel, Historical Fiction, Mystery

Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer, 150 pages, read by Courtney, on 01/06/2015

This is actually a difficult one to write a review of. I enjoyed reading it, but I’m not 100% certain I caught all the nuances. We’ve got multiple time periods, a trio of femme fatales the all kind of look alike, perpetually drunk private investigators, old Hollywood, a whip-smart heroine and her angry-crazy daughter. It begins in the ’30’s and ends up a decade later during WWII. It’s a very involved story and any synopsis I could provide would do a disservice. In fact, there were many points where I wasn’t sure what was even happening. The vibe is distinctly noir and the tale is plenty engaging. I have never read anything by Feiffer before, so I was unfamiliar with his extremely sketchy style of drawing. For me, it was difficult to discern which character was which and what exactly was happening in many of the scenes. Thus, I can’t say that this graphic novel worked all that well for me, though I still enjoyed reading it.

04. February 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Fairy Tales and Folklore, Graphic Novel

Fables: The Deluxe Edition, Vol. 9 by Bill Willingham, 368 pages, read by Courtney, on 01/04/2015

This is clearly a pivotal point for the characters in Fables. It’s the battle we’ve all been waiting for: the Fables versus the Adversary. It’s every bit as epic as you’d imagine.

04. February 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Teen Books

We Are The Goldens by Dana Reinhardt, 208 pages, read by Courtney, on 01/04/2015

Nell and Layla have always been close. They were born scarcely over 9 months apart and were so intertwined as kids that Nell called herself “Nellalya”. Now they’re in high school, Layla a junior and Nell a freshman. Their relationship is starting to strain as Layla becomes more secretive and begins pulling away from Nell. Nell still looks up to her sister and eventually discovers that reason for Layla’s recent behavior. Layla is involved in a romantic relationship with her art teacher. Rumors have been circulating about the relationship, but since the teacher is young and handsome, it’s not the first time such rumors have gone around. This may, however, be the first time the rumors were actually true. Nell is torn between wanting to tell someone about this relationship and keeping her sister’s secret. What’s a good sister to do?
While the plot mostly centers on Nell’s obsession with her sister, We Are the Goldens is really more about Nell coming of age. Nell is learning some very serious lessons while she’s trying to figure out what’s going on with her sister. Prior to high school, Nell’s identity is tied to her sisters and it is only when she realizes her sister’s judgement is skewed that Nell begins to learn who she is as a person. Nell makes some terrible choices too, but she at least learns from them and uses them to inform her decision-making process when Layla’s secrets appear to be getting out of control. Overall, a good read for fans of realistic fiction and family drama. The short length and brisk pacing means this can be read in a single afternoon.

04. February 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Courtney, Graphic Novel, Science Fiction

Saga, Vol. 3 by Brian K. Vaughan, 144 pages, read by Courtney, on 01/02/2015

The best comic book series of this decade continues as Alana and Marco seek out their mutual literary hero while still on the run from mercenaries.

08. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Courtney, Graphic Novel

Snapshot by Jock, Andy Diggle, 104 pages, read by Courtney, on 12/17/2015

Jake Dobson is your typical nerd; works at the Near-Mint Rhino comic-book store in San Francisco. But when he finds a lost cell phone, he’s horrified to discover it’s full of snapshots of a murder victim. Suddenly he finds himself hunted by a vengeful hitman who wants his phone back… and Jake in a body bag! And then things start to get *really* complicated.

Description from Goodreads

08. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Teen Books

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin, 256 pages, read by Courtney, on 12/20/2015

Addison was the most promising artist of her generation. Her death, a fall from a bridge, is a crushing blow to everyone who knew her. The prologue explains that the author, Griffin, was intrigued by Addison and thus began interviewing a wide variety of friends, family, exes, teachers, family acquaintances, etc. to gain a better understanding of who Addison was and what led to her death. Did she slip and fall? Was it intentional on her behalf? Did someone want her dead? Accounts of Addison vary depending on who is being asked, though everyone seems to agree that she was a phenomenal artist with some serious mental health issues. The narrative of the book is entirely commentary from the people in Addison’s life and begins more or less at the beginning with Addison’s early elementary school years. Also included are examples of Addison’s artwork and photos of Addison throughout her life.
We may never really know what caused Addison’s fatal slip, but we do get a much better idea of who she was and what brought her up on that bridge. Addison comes across as the quintessential “manic-pixie-dream-girl”. Everyone seems to want to know her, but she’s frequently aloof. Her art is clearly the most important part of her life, so much so that people, even those she cares about, come in at a distant second. Those who don’t like her come across as jealous of her magnetism and talent. She was clearly not the easiest person to be friends with; being her friend involved a lot of work.
I’ve recently come to the conclusion that I don’t really get into books that have this many different narrators. It’s incredibly difficult for me to warm up to any of the peripheral characters as we only know them through their relation to Addison and not on their own terms. While I felt like I learned a lot about Addison, I never felt like I knew her as a person, which was likely the intent. This is, however, an interesting experiment in form. There were a lot of themes at play here: the cult of celebrity, the connection between mental illness and creative genius, the effects of being precocious in a city like New York… As a thought experiment, the novel works, but I didn’t really love it.

08. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Courtney, Graphic Novel

FBP Vol. 2: Wish You Were Here by Simon Oliver, 144 pages, read by Courtney, on 12/14/2015

The mind-bending science fiction series FBP returns to the strange phenomena all over the world-and beyond.

Federal Bureau of Physics agents Rosa and Adam are invited to take part in an experiment that will test their limits and blur their concept of reality. And after a beautiful moment is shattered, Rosa and Adam get to see firsthand why Nakeet is known as the strangest town north of the 48.

Description from Goodreads

08. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Courtney, Teen Books

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon, 336 pages, read by Courtney, on 12/13/2015

It began as a day much like any other. Tariq Johnson was walking home after a trip to the local market, something he had done dozens of times before. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a car pulls up. A white man gets out of the car and shoots Tariq. Tariq is dead by the time the EMTs arrive. The community, which is predominantly black, is thrown into an uproar. Violence is nothing new to the gang-ridden neighborhood, but this shooting is different. Tariq was only 16 years old and he was, by many accounts, unarmed. As the news picks up the story, it becomes apparent that this act of violence was about far more than just the two individuals involved. The incident quickly becomes national news and the lives of everyone connected with Tariq and his shooter are changed forever.
Tariq’s story is told from multiple perspectives, including his best friend, his family members, old friends, local gang members, the store clerk, the shooter’s friend who lives down the street, the girl who tried to give Tariq CPR…the list goes on. There’s even an Al Sharpton-type character in the mix. It becomes abundantly clear from early on that the narrative of the day’s events shifts significantly depending on who is doing the talking. The gang members want to believe that Tariq did have a gun and that he was planning on joining up with them, so his death signals an act of war to them. Tariq’s best friend wasn’t there, but can’t wrap his head around the idea of Tariq carrying a gun. The friend of the shooter swore up and down that he saw a gun in Tariq’s hand. Others are sure they didn’t see a gun; that Tariq had a Snickers bar in his hand instead. How It Went Down certainly feels timely and does much to emphasize patterns of racism, both conscious and subconscious. As with many other incidents like this (that were not captured on film), what actually happened is difficult to discern. Each narrator has a very specific point of view shaped by their perceptions not only of Tariq himself, but of the neighborhood and the stereotypes associated with young black men in living in poor areas like Tariq’s. Ultimately, there are only two people who have any real answers – the shooter and the shot- and neither one is talking. This is a great novel to teach the ways in which our preconceived notions can shape our interpretation of events, but it’s not the most literary of novels out there. It’s an important read, but only if the reader is willing and able to sort through a very large number of narrators only to find that there aren’t any “real” answers. In the end, I felt that it might have been better to develop fewer characters rather than confuse the issue further with so many individual points of view.