Taking on themes of evangelicalism, mental health, and addiction, Yaa Gyasi’s sophomore effort shines.

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“Transcendent Kingdom,” by Yaa Gyasi. (Knopf)

“The ending, the answer, is never the hard part,” states Gifty, the protagonist of Yaa Gyasi’s latest novel Transcendent Kingdom.The hard part is trying to figure out what the question is, trying to ask something interesting enough, different enough from what has been asked, trying to make it all matter.”

Transcendent Kingdom, follows our narrator, Gifty, the daughter of a pair of Ghanaian immigrants who settle with their family in Huntsville, Alabama. There, Gifty’s brother Nana, is a star player, dominating their town’s athletics sphere. But when an injury causes him to become bedridden, and OxyContin is introduced into the mix as a salve for the pain, we soon see Nana’s addiction begin to spiral out of control. …


Dana Johnson’s 2012 novel is a beautifully rendered coming-of-age saga spanning decades.

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“Elsewhere, California” by Dana Johnson (Counterpoint Press)

When diving into Dana Johnson’s Elsewhere, California, we are immersed into the technical terrain of interpersonal relationships, mainly ones familial. With her expertise and scope, Johnson constructs a familial portrait of nuanced coming-of-age, with her protagonist Avery painted front and center. But when cousin Keith enters the picture, intermittently living with the family, the two relatives’ dynamics swell and wane throughout years of tumultuous ambivalence, and fraught affability. As the two grow older, Avery examines the demise and alienation of Keith, the very same cousin she used to look up to, now a picture of wasted promise. …


In her début novel, Luster, Raven Leilani’s Edie commands to take up space

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Farrar, Straus and Giroux

In Raven Leilani’s expertly crafted début, we follow 23-year-old Edie as she navigates the rocky terrain of her own coming-of-age. The setting of Luster is juxtaposed against the backdrop of the atmospheric rapidness of New York City and the quiet suburbs of New Jersey. Through the character of Edie, we are taken on a ride through a dizzying array of relationships whether it be with past suitors, in open marriages, as a mentor to a teenage girl, or with the self.

Fresh off the heels of graduating from NYU’S MFA program, Raven Leilani is already making a splash within the literary community. The newly minted New York Times bestselling author, proves an artfully agile writer, expertly weaving us through passages with both verbose and terse language, intertwining the two disparities with the expertise rarely seen in a début. In particular, the first time Edie and Eric have sex, in which Leilani delivers a master class of a scene, one which will knock you off your feet, and one writer Kaitlyn Greenidge describes as “…a miracle of a run-on sentence that expertly shifts from awkward bemusement to sincerity to disgust, much like many first times.” …

About

A.M. Kenyi

A.M. Kenyi is a writer based in New York.

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