How do I even start describing the most powerful book I’ve read in years? I know I won’t be giving you a synopsis of the story. If you’re hoping for a clear-cut, concisely written reason to buy this book, this review isn’t going to help you.
The author calls this a love story. I can’t disagree. It’s all that and a bag of chips. Now, let’s talk about that bag of chips. Reach in the bag and pull one out. Is it everything you expected? Maybe it’s a burnt-black chip. Do you keep that one, or do you throw it away without a second thought? Is the chip broken? Is it damaged? Is it pure white and perfect in every way? Is the bag empty? Could the chips be invisible?
If you haven’t read the book yet, you’re wondering what I’m babbling about. If you’ve read it, hopefully you get my meaning. The story starts with a lot of Dave Barry-ish style humor as the author of Hell of a Book travels around the United States on a book promotion tour. Along the way—while getting blind drunk and womanizing at his various hotels—he meets The Kid, a young, extraordinarily black boy, who makes a simple request of the author. ‘See me.’ What the author’s best at seeing is the bottom of a bourbon glass, but he manages to tell The Kid in all sincerity ‘I see you’.
After that The Kid appears often to the author. Difficult conversations between them take place. Slowly, their life stories are revealed. The plot manages to retain a good helping of wit and absurdity, but new, more somber layers are being folded into the cloth of the story. Other lives are revealed and examined, one of which is Soot, another black child.
By the time the author lands in Denver, I hope you’ve got the rest of your day clear, because this is the no-turning-back point. Reality and fantasy are weaving together in heart wrenching twists and turns. I had no choice but to stay riveted to the book until I turned the last page. I put it down with a mixture of sadness and relief. I didn’t want to leave the author, but I also didn’t think I could handle any more harsh truths.
Many books have been written about the Black experience. What sets this one apart from most is how we’re pulled into an intimate relationship with Black Americans who have experienced racism, police violence, poverty, and injustice. If you aren’t Black, throw your preconceived notions and assumptions to the curb and listen. If you are Black, perhaps this story will help you put your feelings into a new context.
My thanks to author Jason Mott, Penguin Group Dutton, and NetGalley for allowing me to read a digital advance review copy of this book. This review is my honest and unbiased opinion.