Growing up in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, Johnny and Tonya meet in high school and fall for each other. Yet their romance falls apart when Johnny seriously injures Tonya’s ex-boyfriend in an altercation. Johnny is imprisoned, and Tonya starts dating a rapper who fulfills her dreams of dancing in videos.
Depressed and deflated in jail, Johnny comes back to life thanks to the help of Pandora, the prison’s den “mother,” and James, who helps Johnny study for his GED. What starts as a platonic friendship between the sexually repressed Johnny and the openly gay James soon develops into a tender love that’s put on hold when James is released on parole. A year later, Johnny is freed as well, haunted by his feelings.
Meanwhile, Tonya, no longer with the rapper, has a new dream of reuniting with Johnny. And James, who wows crowds as a legendary drag queen performer, is furious that Johnny hasn’t reached out to him.
Their lives soon become a twisting roller coaster—secrets are revealed, and assumptions are shattered in ways never imagined. Inviting comparison to E. Lynn Harris, Clarence Nero has created a compelling story about the social and sexual challenges black people face.
Nero's second outing (after Cheekie), set against the backdrop of New Orleans's pre-Katrina Ninth Ward, deploys three deftly drawn narrators to tell a wrenching story of desire and survival. Tonya, a stripper at Club Circus in the French Quarter, dates a shifty, up-and-coming rapper while her true love, Johnny, a former football star and preacher's son, serves time in an upstate prison for roughing up Tonya's ex. In prison, Johnny meets James, a sassy, educated drag queen from the same side of the tracks, doing time for petty theft. Worlds collide when Johnny admits to his feelings for James and becomes torn between his long-repressed homosexuality and the woman and life he had before. Once on the outside, James and Johnny become tangled in intrigue involving former and potential lovers, parents, friends and the ever-present specters of jealousy, homophobia, spite and simple misunderstanding. Nero has an excellent sense of pacing and nails each character's voice with a distinctiveness that's both illuminating and, by turns, hilarious. He moves easily from drag queen balls to church pews, and though the plot strands are tied up too neatly at the end, the book's mold-breaking characters and myriad subplots will hook readers.