Right off the bat I’m going to say I haven’t read a book that had me feeling the way about characters the way this did in a long time. Maybe ever. Liselle Sambury writes her characters as real people who’s drives and intentions are palpable and whose mistakes had me thumping my head at the table or the pillow or wherever I happened to be reading because I felt it.
We start the book with Voya, a sixteen year old who lives in the same house as her mom, grandmom, dad, his new wife, their daughter, her twin cousins, her other cousin, and her uncle. It’s big, it’s loud, it’s close, it’s a real family and that came with the relationships you would expect and the way you can be absolutely over someone because of what they present to you only to realize there’s more to it than you ever knew. Family, right?
They all felt real. Every single side character was perfectly voiced, I could tell them apart, including the twins Keisha and Keis who cannot stand well, each other, and the fact they have the same name because of their mom who did it on purpose.
Or their older cousin Alex, the fashion designer who is also trans and is absolutely accepted, to quote part of the book “no one questioned it” granted there is a little context around that line BUT it’s not bad. She’s accepted and I love it.
That’s also not the only representation.
But what got me was how well done the plot was even though I have a tiny sticking point about it that I’ll get to in a moment.
This book is wildly well paced. I never felt like I was slogging through it. I wanted to get past some things because they were awkward for the character to have to deal with and I felt the way I would feel if I was watching someone I knew flounder. It was great.
Everything in it belonged, perfect word economy. I never felt like I was reading filer, everything was where it needed to be. Add in the worldbuilding that was so intrinsic and the magic system that actually made sense and was intricate and necessary to the plot, I was in love.
When it came to the characters interacting with each other, it was sort of like being around people I knew. Being Black and seeing yourself properly represented (meaning now stereotypes and actual understanding of the culture) is something that will always put a smile on my face. Any time I read the word steups I could hear it. Then I heard my dad in the back of my head saying “don’t suck your teeth at me.”
You know a book is good when it can bring up memories of your own family.
There were several other instances of things like this and it makes me love the book even more.
My one sticking point with the plot is the way the word destroy was used? Voya takes it “kill” basically everyone does. But in my head you can destroy someone without killing them. I mean we see people’s lives get destroyed all the time on social media because of scandals, people unearthing things they said that were not ok and bringing light to it. To me, destroy=kill was the only sticking point I had.
When it comes to trigger warnings: there are some! And that means what? I’m happy! They’re right at the front of the book and they’re perfect.
I never want to hear someone say that they constitute spoilers.
One of the warnings is “a whipping scene within the context of slavery” that’s not a spoiler. All you know is the action. Now when, not how, not why, not the effect it has on anyone involved. It is information given so the reader can prepare themselves going in. And it’s fantastic. It also did not lessen the impact of the scene when I eventually got to it. I just knew going into the story that at some point I would be faced with that scene. It was much better than having it sprung on me without me being able to prepare for it.
This book gets five (5) stars from me.
I want to say more about the falling in love, the romance but I will end up writing a dissertation on this book and I don’t think anyone wants that. I will happily tell everyone I knew to read it. I might even give copies away as gifts.
One of my favorite things about this book is that not only do I have a book that has a Black girl on the cover that I can see and be like “hey that looks like me” but it’s also purple. And that’s just icing on the cake.
Buy this book y’all. It is one of my favorites in my personal library.