Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Literally the Best Reviews: Riot Baby

 Riot Baby - Tochi Onyebuchi

Tor Books

176 Pages

Have you ever picked up a book that sounded amazing and started out just as amazing when you were reading it, only to have it collapse into a royal mess? That is what happened for me with Riot Baby by Toche Onyebuchi. When I saw this book at the Lockport Library and I read the summary, I thought this book would be a great book to read. It was. For a while. Then it just turned into self-absorbed tripe. Thankfully this book was so short after just a disappointing second half. There are spoilers ahead.

This book got rave reviews on Amazon and on Goodreads. Frankly, it started out living up to those reviews. Unfortunately for me, it did not ultimately live up to the hype. Ella and her brother, Kevin, are the main characters of this novel. Theirs is the story of oppression, police brutality and racism that they face as African-Americans. Kevin, for his part, seems to do his best not to be dragged into that ugly world. However, circumstances surrounding him and treatment toward him by others forces him into exactly those situations he was trying to rise above.

His sister has a power that allows her to see the future and allows her to control events, to the point of being able to destroy the city. When Kevin is jailed for some offense, Ella is able to “visit” her brother and maintain that contact of love between siblings.

This novel is a story of widespread, systemic racism. In this dystopian future, that racism is even more pronounced and stereotypes are even more cemented into place. It will take powers beyond our control to break down these barriers and move forward as equals. The book is a quick look into that ugliness, something that many of us just cannot comprehend without having had to deal with it ourselves. Onyebuchi lets the raw emotion drip from the page. It was this aspect that kept me reading. It was enthralling. Would Kevin be able to overcome, or would he follow the well-trodden path?

The message of trying to overcome is a good one. However, as Onyebuchi attempts to navigate those waters and paint a brighter future, he makes a catastrophic error that jeopardizes the entirety of his goal. Near the very end, Kev has a dream where he sees the future. In that future, a white family is forced from their home by African-American authorities, to be exiled. When asked what he sees, Kevin replies, “Freedom.”

Frankly, that line disgusted me. Onyebuchi spent over 100 pages trying to overcome systemic racism and break down heinous stereotypes. When the chance comes to be the better person, the author believes that flipping the roles is a perfect answer. Shouldn’t we strive to be better people and not have to subjugate anyone? Shouldn’t that be the message rather than perpetuate hate and prejudice in any form? His last message is a terrible one which destroys everything he wrote prior. There is no justification other than to be vindictive, and we already have too much of that. Sorry, Tochi Onyebuchi, you lost me at that point, which is too bad. His writing is actually great. 

I really wanted to be able to give this book a positive review, but I could not. I’m not sure if I would read another book by Onyebuchi. I might give it one more shot to see if he can get beyond his prejudices, but another like-minded message will be the end of it. I am for loving my fellow humans. We should all respect one another and work towards ending all hate, racism, and prejudice. Any effort to perpetuate any of that has no place.

Craig Bacon has strong opinions. He wants to remind you that opinions are not facts. We can respectfully disagree and not have to hate each other for thinking differently.