Book of the Month: Nightcrawling

Welcome to The Book of the Month! Y'all... no need to explain the long absence from here. See previous post for an explanation. Alright, let's dive in. The book of this month  is Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley. 

I am going to give extraordinary grace to this book because I honestly believe it suffered from the curse of being read after two Chimamanda Adichie novels—I recently reread Americanah and Purple Hibiscus.  Listen, once you’ve experienced the ease and delicious smoothness of Chimamanda's work, everybody else just seems like they are trying too hard. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

In sum, the book is about Kiara, steeped in abject poverty and neglect, who has to scrap by on the streets of Oakland, and who, one night, mistakenly stumbles into the failure of America's justice system. For a longer version of the preceding sentence: Kiara and her brother, Marcus, live in a rundown apartment in Oakland called Regal-Hi. Both had to drop out of high school and their family has been fractured by death and prison. Meanwhile, rather than find a way to care for his sister, Marcus is too consumed by his dream of rap stardom; leaving Kiara to hunt for work to pay their rent and take care of them. At the same time, she has to keep the nine-year old boy next door (whose mother has abandoned) fed. In any case, as a minor and high school dropout, her options for work are limited and thanks to a misunderstanding on a drunken night, she turns to a job she never wanted but definitely needs. 

This is an incredibly powerful story and a reminder of how maddening our justice system is. For a debut novel, this was powerful; the voice and vision with which Mottley told the story cannot be dismissed. The themes in the book: inequality; poverty; injustice; corruption; drug addiction...all of it are a searing reminder of the problems that confront our society on a daily basis. They also remind us why we must constantly think about the marginalized in our society. The fact that this book is inspired (not based on per se) by a real case of police exploitation of a young black woman is heartbreaking. Mottley draws us into a world most know nothing about and for that, I say BRILLIANT.

This book received a lot of rave reviews and people have been extremely generous to the book (sometimes more than it deserved) so I don't feel as bad about saying what I dislike about the book.

It felt like it tried too hard. That's the simplest way to describe what I sensed. Mottley is careful to use language at her disposal; to create a world that is so visceral, it almost feels like we're living in it. The problem is she is too careful. So much that she gets bugged down in describing every single moment. "I move..." "I climb carefully". At one point, Kiara, the first-person narrator of the novel says, "...her eyebrows twitch". Who watches anyone's eyebrows so closely? The novel moves too slowly; it's too lyrical, too poetic. 

The sky takes each flurry and sends it right back with just a hint of music lingering in the echo, a belt from some invisible trombone, the lowest note on an organ drawn out. Sound after sound flooding from my body like war-zone fire on a cold day…”  This is written  all because someone cried/screamed? 


Imagine an entire novel like this.

And the ending of the novel was underwhelming; abrupt; anti-climatic. It made all the tedious reading done earlier feel entirely pointless.   When I got to the end of the book and read the acknowledgement and realized the author is a poet, all of a sudden, so much made sense. She is incredibly authentic and profound but so much felt forced. 

When Kiara speaks, it's with broken English, “got a gig but it don't pay much and they raising our rent.”  BUT then the internal narrative voice (as the novel is written in first person) is like she has a Ph.D. in creative writing. It is extremely disorienting. 

It seemed like the characters and their plight were supposed to pull you in but hard as they tried, heartstrings were not pulled.

That said, every single criticism above takes a backseat to the fact she wrote this at 19. NINETEEN!!  That is IMPRESSIVE. 

And that's the kind of excellence I hope we all aspire to this year: courageous, daring, determined, and fearless. 

In any case, welcome back to the blog! And if you do read this book, tell me how you like it.




  1. You're back! Randomly decided to search your blog not expecting to see anythin and now, there's a lot to catch up on. Love it!

    1. Aww thanks so much! I could cry at how sweet this is. :-)