Category Archives: Uncategorized

Kiss the Scars on the Back of My Neck: Stories – Joe Okonkwo (Amble Press)

It’s been a long time since Okonkwo’s brilliant novel, Jazz Moon, so I was stoked when I heard Amble Press was releasing a collection of Joe Okonkwo stories. And they had a lot to live up to. Jazz Moon was notable for its rich characterizations and deft plotting, but I needn’t have worried. Kiss the Scars on the Back of My Neck more than lives up to that promise.

Betrayal looms large in Okonkwo’s work: betrayal of family, of friends, of love, and even of self. This betrayal slaps the reader lightly in the first story, “Picnic Street,” sucker punches you in “Skin,” and delivers a fierce right cross with “Paulie”. Of this initial triptych, the latter two stories had the most impact for me. The protagonist of “Skin” suffers from body image issues, using those issues to destroy a new love. Its final scene, though inevitable, is heartbreaking and will linger in your memory. “Paulie” sees the title character betraying his family, especially his mother, with a devastating act that both shames and empowers him, schooling the boy in the fragility of relationships and how easily they can be decimated. His realization that he is good at creating such castrophe is truly chilling.

“Gift Shop” is an interesting piece in which betrayal is the catalyst rather than the denouement. Our protagonist, Nina, finds out about her husband’s infidelities with a younger man only to have him ask to move said young man into the house and the relationship. He doesn’t want a divorce, but wants to live in perfect marital harmony with both of them. Nina considers this the last straw and says she’s moving out. But she doesn’t do so. Paralleling that storyline, Nina also finds her position at the museum gift shop where she works usurped by a younger, hipper, man. You’ll never see the resolution coming.

“The Girls’ Table” is the first story to feature Cedric, a young Black man who is one of the main protagonists in the title piece. In “Fluff,” an older man finds employment in an unexpected place. Okonkwo returns to the Harlem Renaissance of Jazz Moon in “You Can’t Do That to Gladys Bentley,” which tells a tale of intolerance featuring the controversial, cross-dressing nightclub star, and then tugs at your heart with “Cleo,” a simple tale of a man and his cat.

The final story, “Kiss the Scars on the Back of My Neck” sees the return of Cedric, now a grown bisexual denizen of Queens and an opera buff who has a fight with his girlfriend Melanie and goes to see Madame Butterfly, meeting a cultured, uptown Black artist named Paul. Both relationships are rocky, uneven power struggles, but, again, it takes a betrayal for Cedric to make a decision between his two paramours.

Kiss the Scars on the Back of My Neck is a high-powered collection of well told stories, full of the kind of engaging characters we’ve come to expect from Okonkwo. There’s not a duff one in the bunch. Highly recommended!

JW

© 2021 Jerry L. Wheeler

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Anarchists’ Club – Alex Reeve (Felony & Mayhem Press)

I’m always up for historical fiction and historical mysteries are a big plus, so I was really excited to receive this volume in the mail from Michele Karlsberg introducing me to trans man Victorian detective Leo Stanhope. This the second book, and if I didn’t have a TBR stack that now extends to three coffee tables, I’d be anxious to read the first one. I’ll definitely be looking for the third.

Born Charlotte “Lottie” Pritchard, Leo Stanhope carries that big secret as best he can, staying at the chemist shop with its proprietor, Alfie, working at the hospital, and playing chess with his friend, Jacob. His quiet life, however, is about to get hectic when he becomes involved with the murder of a customer, Dora Harrington near her residence inside a controversial club for political outsiders. Not only was his name and address found in her pocket, but he’s also threatened by a man to provide him with a alibi or he’ll expose Leo as Lottie. Added to the mix are Dora’s children, Aidan and Ciara, whom Leo feels responsible for. He wants to find a home for them, but the closer he gets to solving the mystery of her murder, the farther away from that goal he seems to be.

Reeves does an excellent job setting up the Victorian atmosphere, both in terms of character and setting. The mystery of who killed Dora is interesting and engaging, full of twists and turns, especially toward the end. I also found Stanhope’s interest in the children to be heartfelt, Reeve setting up a fascinating dichotomy between Stanhope’s innate maternal instinct contrasted with the desire to present as a single father. Those two, of course, are not mutually exclusive, but the author illustrates the perils of such an arrangement well, especially considering the time period.

Stanhope’s father is also in poor health, adding a familial air to the plot. He left home under a cloud, and his father doesn’t know what became of him. His sister, however, does, and she’s none too happy about it–especially when he asks her to hide the children from the parties seeking them. They have a very tentative relationship with little but their father in common, and when Stanhope goes back to make amends with the old man, he does so not as Charlotte but as Leo.

The Anarchists’ Club, then, is a great little mystery with some politicial overtones guaranteed to whet your appetite for more Leo Stanhope. Well recommended!

JW

© 2021 Jerry L. Wheeler

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Warn Me When It’s Time – Cheryl Head (Bywater Books)

Buy from:

Bywater Books

Charlie Mack does it again–or, rather Cheryl Head does. The sixth book of the Charlie Mack police procedural series is of a piece with the other five entries, meaning it’s snappy, engaging, full of action and food, and chock full of local Detroit flavor.

A local hate group has been running rampant, using robberies and arson at many mosques, temples, and Black churches to intimidate Muslims and people of color throughout the metro area. The latest bombing has killed a prominent imam, but his children don’t feel the police are doing all they can to solve the murder. So they hire the Mack Agency to take control and get some answers. When Charlie and her people start digging, however, they find a conspiracy that reaches all the way to the top of local government–and beyond.

The character of Charlie Mack is well enough established in this series that Head feels comfortable and secure enough to let her take a backseat in favor of another character. In this installment, it’s stalwart Don Rutkowski who goes undercover with the aid of the FBI, just as Charlie herself did in Catch Me When I’m Falling. He, however, does not get to be homeless. Instead, he becomes a serial bomber. And Don himself is undergoing some changes in attitude, working on his own prejudices acquired during the World Trade Center disaster in 2011 and his time in the military.

But Charlie doesn’t disappear entirely. There are plenty of glimpses into her home life with partner Mandy and their dog, Hamm. And the ever capable secretary-turned-investigator Judy Novak is back as well, turning her hand to a number of tasks both in and out of the office.

And speaking of characters, Head introduces Robert “Robbie” Barrett, a young computer whiz working for the White Turks hate group, then the FBI, then…who knows? He turns out to be a major factor in the tension here because you never quite know whose side he’s on until the very end. And Head wisely leaves her options open regarding using him again. I’d love to see him return in a future installment.

Warn Me When It’s Time, then, is a solid, well-done entry in the Charlie Mack Motown Mystery series, guaranteed to please old fans and make new ones. Anxiously awaiting the next…

JW

© 2021 Jerry L. Wheeler

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Infraction – Yvonne Zipter (Rattling Good Yarns Press)

I always enjoy historical fiction because the modern age holds so few charms and surprises anymore, and historical fiction from other countries is even more fun. So when Infraction offered me a chance to be transported to early nineteenth century Russia and get a glimpse into that society with an added bonus of looking at queer relationships, I jumped. And the leap was well-rewarded. Infraction is an excellent window into that world, full of strong characters, interesting turns, and an unexpected, though not unsurprising, ending.

Marya Zhukova is a fiercely independent woman living in St. Petersburg in the year 1875, taking care of her elderly maiden aunt Lidia, who is dying of consumption . She loves literature and mathematics, advancing as far as possible in those subjects at the St. Petersburg Institute for Girls. But she wants more, attending a series of private lectures with a number of like-minded women. There, Marya falls in love with Vera, a tutor. As their relationship blossoms, Marya’s aunt succumbs to her ailment, but before Lidia dies, she extracts a promise from Marya to marry. Despite Vera’s fears that a husband will come between them, Marya enters into a platonic marriage with librarian Sergei, altering the lives of everyone involved.

Zipter does an admirable job with St. Petersburg, placing us there with glimpses of its food, its culture, its societal restrictions, and its limited opportunities for unmarried women. But any backdrop, no matter how richly portrayed, is just scenery without powerful characters to struggle within its confines, and Zipter accounts herself equally well on that front. Marya is fierce, refusing to be bound by tradition, openly mocking the suitors Lidia parades past her at soirees Lidia organizes to acquaint her with the eligible St. Petersburg bachelors. Lidia remains the bastion of tradition in their household, clinging to the old ways and customs, providing stability for Marya as she allows her to fly in the face of those same customs. Sergei is also interesting, so hungry for intellectual compatibility that he gives up romantic passion for its sake.

Chapters are delineated by character name, but they are differentiated. Marya and Lidia’s chapters are named after them and written in third person limited, Vera’s chapters, however, are all labeled “Vera’s Journal” and written in first person. Sergei (and, indeed, all of the male characters) are also written in first person but are epistolary–letters Sergei writes to either his brother or cousin or missives Marya’s old math instructor, Grigorii, pens to his former pupil regarding her further instruction.

This rather odd differentiation between the way parts of the story are presented really has no effect on the story or its understanding–and some readers may not even perceive it–but as an editor, I tend to notice those details and wonder why the author made those choices. Why are Marya and Lidia the only characters who tell their story in third person? Or the male characters restricted to letters? Again, it really bears no impact on the story and it’s not irritating or problematic in any way…but why?

In any case, Infraction makes for fascinating historical fiction with an intriguing storyline played out through interesting and wholly absorbing characters.

JW

© 2021 Jerry L. Wheeler

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

White Trash Warlock – David R. Slayton (Blackstone Publishing)

Although this release is from last year, David Slayton is a local Denver author and I missed this when it was first out. The sequel, Trailer Park Trickster, will be coming in October, but that’s no reason not to give this fine piece of urban fantasy a shout out now. Slayton is well on his way to creating an interesting and wholly engaging series for Adam Binder, his reluctant magic user.

Adam lives in a trailer in smalltown Oklahoma with his Aunt Sue. They both have The Sight because it runs through his father’s bloodline, but it’s meant nothing but trouble to Adam. He’s using it to try and track his long missing, abusive father, but a message from his brother, Bobby, derails those efforts. Though Bobby was responsible for having Adam committed to a mental institution in his teens, his being in Denver coincides with the next step Adam must take to find his father. When he arrives there, he finds his sister-in-law possessed by an ancient spirit that has already killed all the magicians in Denver, leaving it up to him to try and save her.

Slayton pulls out all the stops, re-imagining parts of Denver in the spirit world (including the old D&F tower on the cover), populated by elves, gnomes, and leprechauns with clocktower jails, haunted hospitals, and evil amusement parks. Richly detailed and sumptuously described, these beings and places would mean little, however, without strong characters to populate the bizarre landscape.

Adam and his brother Bobby are the real building blocks of the book. Adam’s insecurities about both his power and his self-image fuel his relationships with the elf siblings–one he has history with–who assist him in fighting the spirit invading the city. Similarly, Bobby’s guilt over not only committing Adam but about an even more evil deed I can’t relate (spoiler, y’know), seeds the ending and provides the bridge for the sequel.

Being a Denver resident, I also enjoyed seeing parts of my landscape highlighted and, in the case of Casa Bonita, the famous and famously bad Mexican restaurant, totally skewered. Little bits like that are tucked away like snacks only the locals will appreciate fully.

However, it doesn’t take a local to appreciate great characters, fine storytelling, and the vivid imagination of David R. Slayton. White Trash Warlock is a gem from start to finish, and I can’t wait for Trailer Park Trickster!

JW

© 2021 Jerry L. Wheeler

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Doubting Thomas – Matthew Clark Davison (Amble Press)

Preorder/Buy from

Amble Press

What happens when an openly gay, forty-something teacher with an exemplary record is falsely accused of touching a student inappropriately? Davison’s début novel proposes a believably devastating outcome as the subconscious prejudices of a proudly “progressive” community become weaponized. More broadly, Doubting Thomas is well-crafted meditation on the damage done to the gay male psyche by lifelong shaming.

Thomas McGurrin is a good guy. He became an educator to inspire young people, following the path of a favorite high school teacher who had a huge impact on his life. He initially chose a career in public education, but he was beguiled by an elite private school called Country Day in suburban Portland. With the school’s plentiful resources, he thought he could truly make a difference growing the minds of students. And so he did for a decade, beloved by his grade school students, their parents, and fellow teachers alike.

Thomas is also a good son to his aging parents, a good brother to his younger brother, who struggles with drug addiction, and a favorite uncle to his nephews and nieces. He spends his time off attending the crises and celebrations of his brothers’ families and helping his school principal fundraise and make improvements to the school.

Then, the mother of one of Thomas’s ten-year-old students turns on him for reasons that are not entirely clear. She launches a flimsy allegation. Having been somewhat cocooned from the realities of homophobia, Thomas initially can’t believe anything will come of it. Yet in days, he becomes a sexual predator in the heads of nearly everyone around him. 

It’s a brave subject to explore and made braver by Davison’s unqualified and visceral portrayal of Thomas’s journey through disbelief, rationalization, terror, rage, and despair. Many life events induce a crisis of identity and that frightening feeling of not understanding the world. Few are as lonely however as Thomas’s situation. The students, teachers, and parents he’s come to love shun him for an unspeakable crime he didn’t commit. Thomas tries to grapple with how that transformation is possible. Was the school community’s embrace of him all a lie? Did he somehow step across an invisible line that separates an acceptable homosexual from an unacceptable one? Was he set up for failure from the beginning?

Being rejected by Country Day is profound for Thomas as his identity was so wrapped up in the school. Like many gay men, particularly those who are single, his work became the primary source of his personal fulfillment. He’s something of an everyman for gay Gen Xers, coming of age in terror of the AIDS pandemic and carefully measuring how “gay” he can afford to be in order to survive psychologically. Thomas’s internal journey has him critically examining how he ended up in such a place, and Davison shines his brightest in passages that unpack his hero’s personal crisis. How many signs of his inevitable disaster did he deny or rationalize as things that only happen to less careful, less conforming gay people? Did he sacrifice his own happiness in the impossible pursuit of being acceptable to his heterosexual family and friends?

As he seeks answers, Thomas is haunted by childhood messages about the impropriety of same-sex affection, memories of a gay classmates who was brutalized while Thomas stood silent, and the many microaggressions and boundary violations he tolerated from the parents of his students and his brothers while seeking heterosexual approval. That exploration provides some of Davison’s best writing. Similarly, Thomas’s story achieves its greatest impact as we follow him in the aftermath of his removal. Choosing reinvention over self-destruction, Thomas seeks to renegotiate his family relationships and to revisit with greater effort his friendships with the few gay men with whom he allowed himself to be emotionally vulnerable.

On the subject of writing, Neil Gaiman invokes an unattributed but familiar saying that a novel can be best defined as a long piece of prose with something wrong with it. With this important work, Davison achieves something of an anthem for white, gay Gen Xers as Edmund White and Alan Hollinghurst do a similar service for baby boomers, and in that Doubting Thomas feels like it has a place of permanence in LGBTQ+ literature. The storytelling meanders a bit, particularly in the first and last third, which will likely frustrate some readers. For those who stick with it, Davison’s novel offers striking observations on the struggle of gay men of a certain age to reclaim a “spoiled identity.”

A good selection for fans of gay literary fiction in the vein of the aforementioned White and Hollinghurst and authors of Davison’s generation like Rahul Mehta and Matthew Todd.

Reviewed by Andrew J. Peters

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Root of Everything & Lightning: Two Novellas – Scott Alexander Hess (Rebel Satori Press)

Preorder/Buy from:

Rebel Satori Press

One of the perks of this gig is the ability to track an author’s career. I’ve been reading Scott Alexander Hess since Skyscraper (2017) and River Runs Red (2019), so I’m well acquainted with his output and was delighted to receive this release of two of his novellas from Rebel Satori Press. One of the two pieces is in his River Runs Red vein, having some similarities with that book, but both are engaging and highly enjoyable.

“The Root of Everything” is the longest and the closest to River Runs Red. Alternating time periods, this piece of historical fiction follows a German immigrant family through three generations, beginning with Richard and his brother, Rolf, and their journey to America. The second generation is represented by Richard’s son, Cal, and Cal’s wife, Josie, the daughter of a prominent lumber merchant who brings Cal into the family business. The third generation segments explore the life of Cal’s son, Stanford, and his relationship with his friend and sometimes lover, Bo, as well as his husband, Sam.

“Lightning” is far shorter but no less involving. It’s set in Arkansas in 1918, and deals with a twelve-year-old boy named Bud, who falls in love with a horse named Lightning. Lightning sees Bud through good times with his best friend, Jerky, for whom Bud has some feelings he doesn’t yet understand, as well as the bad times, such as the death of his father. That event throws the whole family into disarray, but Bud’s aunt Gert comes to the rescue, taking the boy under her wing as she offers him a job with her breeding race horses.

Both novellas are well done, conjuring far different moods and creating excellent characters, and both of them simultaneously stand on their own yet leave you wanting more of the story. The latter is especially true of “Lightning,” which features an interesting and unique voice in Bud. I really wanted to find out what happened to him when he moved up to the city with Gert, and perhaps Hess intends to write that eventually. For now, it ends where it should.

I got a similar sense from “The Root of Everything,” but since all three stories are closely intertwined and feature some of the same characters, Hess provides more of a sense of closure at the switch of a generation. For example, when we encounter Stanford, we understand that not only has Cal inherited his father-in-law’s business, but he’s made quite a success of it, which resolves some issues brought up in Cal’s storyline.

Closure and resolution notwithstanding, these are fine novellas in their own right–full of sumptuous writing, lively characters, and a deep-rooted sense of family and connection to the land. If you haven’t read Hess yet, these provide great examples of his work and are a wonderful starting point.

JW

© 2021 Jerry L. Wheeler

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Before Stonewall – Edward Cohen (Awst Press)

Buy from:

Awst Press

Edward M. Cohen, author of the novel $250,000 and other non-fiction books about theater, as well as several plays that have been directed off-Broadway, has collected fourteen of his short stories, all previously published, just in time for Pride Month, in a volume aptly titled Before Stonewall. For the most part, the title is accurate—the stories assembled in this collection span most of the twentieth century, starting shortly after WWII, with only a couple (“Peeling an Egg” and the prologue “After Stonewall”) clearly set after the Stonewall Riots. Besides being arranged chronologically, the stories appear across the entire lifespan of their characters, beginning in the latency of a dimly-remembered childhood (“A Story of Early Love”), continuing through the uncertainty of adolescence (“Golden Boys and Girls”), and encompassing the entirety of adulthood.

Cohen’s characters inhabit a world that has largely disappeared: a world of secrets, code words and behaviors, hiding in plain sight. Before “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was a policy, it was the way to survive, especially mid-century, when McCarthyism soon began hunting homosexuals as a way to root out communism. More than one story chronicles the toll of living in such a world: “Cream of Mushroom Soup” and “This Treacherous Life,” in particular, depict the often brutal results of living such duplicitous existences, where private lives do not match public personas.

Most of the stories are set in New York City, and show a clear insider’s view of the world of New York Theater. The characters include not just aspiring actors, but also theaters’ supporting casts: playwrights, choreographers, set builders, etc. (Hardly surprising that these men are drawn to the theater; even when they’re not acting on stage, they’re living a role, trying to “pass” as cishet males.) Cohen explores throughout his collection the inherent paradox of theater, whereby truths are expressed through the process of assuming a role. No where is this paradox better expressed than in “Birth of a Revolution,” where Elliott, a closeted ROTC member taking a college acting class, assumes the persona of a fellow ROTC member he is hot for, in order to perform the role of Val Xavier in Tennessee Williams’ Battle of Angels. As a result, he uncovers and accepts his own true nature.

The theme of family—always a fraught one, when gay men are concerned—also runs throughout the collection. Many of the protagonists are second- or third-generation immigrants, and the habit not to stick out, to assimilate, is quickly ingrained in childhood, and is often at odds with their desires. A trio of stories near the end of the collection explore the complicated relationships between gay men and their fathers, and do so with insight and nuance. These relationships are depicted as difficult, and for the first two (“Cheez Doodles,” “Shiva”), closure is not a given, even when life has literally ended. Still, the third story (“Choreographer”) in this trio shows that resolution (of a sorts) is not impossible.

Like all good anthologies and collections, this volume has a little bit of everything: theater gossip; sexual tension; clear, sharp writing; and a window into a lost world. I’m not old enough to remember pre-Stonewall times, so I cannot empathize with Al’s nostalgia in “After Stonewall.” But Cohen has provided us a testament of the not-so-distant past, one we should always endeavor to honor and remember.

Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Parade – Michael Graves (Storgy Books)

Buy from:

Storgy Books

How in the world did I miss this when it originally came out in 2015? I see in the archives I read his collection of short fiction, Dirty Ones, and I remember enjoying it immensely. No matter. Parade is as sharply observed and pointedly absurd as that book, but the long form of a novel allows Graves to really dig in and create some very layered and wholly believable characters he puts through the wringer in a number of ways.

Reggie Lauderdale and Elmer Mott are cousins, but their temperments are entirely unrelated. Reggie is a conflicted, rigid, gay, church-going hypochondriac, and Elmer is a straight, somewhat dissolute bum who falls in love with unattainable women he can’t quite get over. Together, they burn down the aforementioned church, win the lottery, move into a relative’s ritzy Florida (of course it’s Florida) mansion next door to a former televangelist, and start a religion that seems to be based on hedonism and aphorisms, not to mention glitzy parties.

Rather than rely on lengthy expositon, Graves wisely chooses to tell their story in short hits–vignettes of events or splashes of dialogue that illuminate or illustrate a point, then move on. This approach is totally in character as neither Reggie nor Elmer dwell anywhere but the moment. They may return to that moment again and again to the point of obsession, but they don’t think long about something before thinking about something else. While this sounds distracting, Graves fashions all these moments into a whole that works splendidly, alternating viewpoints in sort an ADD ballet.

Even the religion Reggie founds expresses itself in short bursts. Instead of any overtly religious title, like The Word or The Way, it’s called The Cookbook, and its verses are numbered recipes. Some of these are simple, others are more complicated, but all are good, nondemoninational advice, such as:

RECIPE #21
Stop lying. Lies are hideouts.
If you fouled up, caused a fender bender, come clean. If you gossiped
unkindly, tell those involved. If you piddled on the toilet seat, admit it.
When you have secrets stashed away? They will only press on your heart.
And don’t believe in little lies either. It’s silly. What’s the point?
Remember, if you are honest, you are FREE
.

Reggie lives by these homilies, and when he comes out, his metamorphosis is striking. He even stops wearing clothes, confining his fashion choices to briefs, high heels, and sometimes a cape. This is a figurative and literal coming out, but it’s more of a purpose than Reggie has had before. Elmer also finds a purpose, even though he comes to it in an effort to win yet another woman who doesn’t really respond him at first.

What I loved most about this book, however, was Reggie and Elmer’s journey and how it transforms them yet retains their personalities. They’re truly marvelous characters in Graves’s shock-pop world, highly stylized yet still very earthy. Parade is a wonderfully engaging book that has many surprises around the bend, leading up to a nicely satisfying ending. Highly recommended.

JW

© 2021 Jerry L. Wheeler

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Black Boy Out Of Time: A Memoir – Hari Ziyad (Little A)

Buy from:

Amazon

As a frequent essayist in national media and the editor of RaceBaitr, Hari Ziyad is an important voice in the United States’ ongoing racial reckoning. With their début long-form work, Ziyad merges memoir, political commentary, and spiritual meditation.

A semi-linear narrative takes the reader from Ziyad’s childhood to adulthood, and it fades in and out of Ziyad’s recollection of going on a last walk with their grandmother Mother Bhumi who was a cornerstone of spiritual tradition and Black persistence in Ziyad’s family.

Ziyad was raised by a Hindu Hari Krisna mother and a Black, Muslim father, first in a lower income, racially segregated section of Cleveland, Ohio and later in the more racially mixed, middle class neighborhood of Cleveland Heights. Religiosity surrounded Ziyad while growing up. They describe a house filled with neighbors and strangers, welcomed by Mata, their mother, for weekly Krisna prayers and rituals. While Ziyad never became a devout practitioner, the faiths of their mother and their father strongly influenced Ziyad’s beliefs, both spiritually and politically.

Ziyad switches from autobiography to socio-political commentary frequently, and early on, introduces a new lexicon to describe anti-black racism. Their experience as Black and queer provides a unique vantage point for observing the intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia, and toxic masculinity. Ziyad uses the term misafropedia to describe a powerful weapon of white supremacy: the aversion to and stereotyped treatment of Black children. The author’s observations about a boy from their childhood neighborhood bring the concept into crisp focus. Roberto was a big boy with a high energy level, who was labelled as a “troublemaker” by adults solely because of his appearance and rough-and-tumble temperament. Ziyah reflects on a memory of Roberto “suddenly” no longer being part of neighborhood games, and digging deeper, they illuminate the subtle ways such boys become alienated, excluded, and told who they should be. The connection to poor school outcomes, anti-social activity and incarceration rings painfully true.

In contrast, Ziyad was a likeable enough, high achieving student who benefitted from adult and peer encouragement and went on to college, graduate school and a notable academic career. They tell their story via inflection points that shaped their understanding of what it means to be Black and queer in America. On the death of Mother Bhumi, listed as of natural causes: “When Black folks die, it is never so simple. When Black folks die, it can always be traced to the myriad ways the state has perfected killing us over the last five centuries of colonization.” On drifting away from Mata due to her religious condemnation of Ziyad’s first gay relationship: “My inability to find faith a world where both Michael and my mother could coexist helped spur a perfect storm of avoidance and substance abuse and self-destructive tendencies…that have plagued me ever since.”

This is a book that makes the reader pause, self-reflect, and at times work through one’s own defenses around race and racism. Ziyad facilitates that process by laying bare their own missteps in navigating racism, sexism, and homophobia as well as by acknowledging the essential truth we don’t have all the answers. It’s an important book elucidating the complex manifestations of anti-black racism and its impacts on queer people specifically.

Reviewed by Andrew J. Peters

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized