Winner of the NAACP Image Award for Fiction
From Kiese Laymon, author of the critically acclaimed memoir Heavy, comes a “funny, astute, searching” (The Wall Street Journal) debut novel about Black teenagers that is a satirical exploration of celebrity, authorship, violence, religion, and coming of age in post-Katrina Mississippi.
Written in a voice that’s alternately humorous, lacerating, and wise, Long Division features two interwoven stories. In the first, it’s 2013: after an on-stage meltdown during a nationally televised quiz contest, fourteen-year-old Citoyen “City” Coldson becomes an overnight YouTube celebrity. The next day, he’s sent to stay with his grandmother in the small coastal community of Melahatchie, where a young girl named Baize Shephard has recently disappeared.
Before leaving, City is given a strange book without an author called Long Division. He learns that one of the book’s main characters is also named City Coldson—but Long Division is set in 1985. This 1985-version of City, along with his friend and love interest, Shalaya Crump, discovers a way to travel into the future, and steals a laptop and cellphone from an orphaned teenage rapper called...Baize Shephard. They ultimately take these items with them all the way back to 1964, to help another time-traveler they meet to protect his family from the Ku Klux Klan.
City’s two stories ultimately converge in the work shed behind his grandmother’s house, where he discovers the key to Baize’s disappearance. Brilliantly “skewering the disingenuous masquerade of institutional racism” (Publishers Weekly), this dreamlike “smart, funny, and sharp” (Jesmyn Ward), novel shows the work that young Black Americans must do, while living under the shadow of a history “that they only gropingly understand and must try to fill in for themselves” (The Wall Street Journal).
Two not-quite-parallel threads run through Laymon's meandering debut novel: the first, the story of young Mississippi high-schooler Citoyen, a.k.a. "City"; the second, chapters from a book he finds about a young Mississippi high-schooler of the same name, who, it seems, is him in a different time period. City is something of a typical inner-city teenage protagonist sharp-witted and sharp-tongued, yet sensitive and observant so his uncharacteristic outburst and the ensuing repercussions that give the novel its initial momentum seem implausible. The novel takes a fantastical turn, and occasionally Laymon's workings stand out a little too clearly. This selective adherence to the "rules" of writing happens on a larger scale: the novel within a novel goes unexplained and unquestioned by City for so long it's as though the author is ignoring his own subject matter to keep pages turning. Those trusting Laymon to provide answers will find a curious, enjoyable novel. However, readers who believe authors must address a text's pressing concerns as they make demands upon the reader not when the author decides he wants to will find this novel more trying. Though its real-world sections take relish in skewering the disingenuous masquerade of institutional racism, the book's interest in fantasy elements serves as an easier, less interesting, way out.
This is a very serious book about race amongst teenagers and how they deal with it. Luckily, it is lightened with some humor dabbled through it so the book isn’t too heavy. The author tackles many issues within this book. Laymon’s writing style is very unique and I really enjoyed the proverbial literary ride.