Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi
YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE!! PARKER HAS COME OUT OF HIS PhD MOUNTAIN TO GIVE US A SURPRISE REVIEW!!!!
**We received an early copy from Tochi in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Tochi and Tor for the opportunity! This book comes out on Jan 21 and you can get it here or at your local independent bookstore**
“Riot Baby bursts at the seams of story with so much fire, passion and power that in the end it turns what we call a narrative into something different altogether.”—Marlon James
Rooted in foundational loss and the hope that can live in anger, Riot Baby is both a global dystopian narrative an intimate family story with quietly devastating things to say about love, fury, and the black American experience.
Ella and Kev are brother and sister, both gifted with extraordinary power. Their childhoods are defined and destroyed by structural racism and brutality. Their futures might alter the world. When Kev is incarcerated for the crime of being a young black man in America, Ella—through visits both mundane and supernatural—tries to show him the way to a revolution that could burn it all down.
It’s taken me dumb long to get myself to write this review. Tochi shipped to me after bookcon last June, and I inhaled it in an afternoon. but then i watched “when they see us on netflix and I was too mad/sad to function, then I did another semester of phd school, which whooped my ass. Fortunately, I found Riot Baby both incredibly rereadable and generative for the academic work I had to finish before I could get to reviewing (sorry @sam ahaha). I been drinking since the early gme started today, os im feeling quite limber. quite.
Lemme start by saying Riot Baby doesn’t miss, not once. Every single sentence in the hundred and six pages does work on me as a reader, on progressing the story and characters. Every punch lands. That efficiency let’s Riot Baby be a story about so much.
Riot Baby is an origin story, the birth of a necessary antihero, rife with convos I’ve had with my mans about the bodega douchebag who took his sweet time with my baconeggancheese. It’s about the inevitability of death, about the possibilities of a life well lived.
Riot Baby comforted me when its story was at its most fucked up, and that fucked me up. That’s what Riot Baby is about, too–the radical ways that we can be there for each other in the face of incessant and dehumanizing violence. Specifically, Riot Baby wants us to ask what comfort there can be for Black folks. It’s a novella bout caring, radically.
Our protagonists, Kev and Ella, are a pair of peas. They’re too big for their pod but Kev doesn’t know that, or why yet. Even when they’re angry, their love for each other and their mother transcends and is transgressive. their intelligence, their power unites them.
Riot Baby makes me have to redefine what makes “happy ending”. Cuz we get one, of sorts, a glimpse of what Kev and Ella will do with the potential they have, but what it will take for them–for us– to get there, won’t be happy thing. Ella shows us flowers and daisies and peonies and whatever but they’re fertilized with carcasses, the rotting structures of hyperviolent, antiblack modernity.
As i read it,Riot Baby arises from a distinct literary genealogy— Afrofuturism. Ella is the grandniece of Amber and Mary from Octavia Butler’s Patternmaster and Mind of my Mind, forcing us to imagine freer futures. Like Butler and and more recently, NK Jemisin, Onyebuchi writes a supremely talented Black woman who forces us speculate about our real world and where it’s going: How can we heal all this hurt? What to do with all this violence? How can we funnel it? What thing can we bring to this war with the corporatist surveillance state? I loved Riot Baby because it demands that we dream bigger, like Audre Lorde says, dream heretically. that’s the only way we’ll survive what’s coming.
Rating: 5/5 shots
Pairing: d’usse because it’s unequivocally black, smoother than you’d expect, and will fuck you up