Everywhere You Don’t Belong by Gabriel Bump

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Trigger Warnings: police violence, protests turned violent, murder of an unarmed Black people, racism and racist microaggressions, neighbourhood violence, gangs, gun use and mention, sex mention, harassment mention, verbally and physically abusive and racist teachers, hospital mention, physical injury, loss of family members, runaway parents

Genre: New Adult/Young Adult, Contemporary

Publication date: 4th February, 2020

Publisher: Algonquin Books

Synopsis (taken from Goodreads)

In this alternately witty and heartbreaking debut novel, Gabriel Bump gives us an unforgettable protagonist, Claude McKay Love. Claude isn’t dangerous or brilliant—he’s an average kid coping with abandonment, violence, riots, failed love, and societal pressures as he steers his way past the signposts of youth: childhood friendships, basketball tryouts, first love, first heartbreak, picking a college, moving away from home. 
 
Claude just wants a place where he can fit. As a young black man born on the South Side of Chicago, he is raised by his civil rights–era grandmother, who tries to shape him into a principled actor for change; yet when riots consume his neighborhood, he hesitates to take sides, unwilling to let race define his life. He decides to escape Chicago for another place, to go to college, to find a new identity, to leave the pressure cooker of his hometown behind. But as he discovers, he cannot; there is no safe haven for a young black man in this time and place called America. 
 
Percolating with fierceness and originality, attuned to the ironies inherent in our twenty-first-century landscape, Everywhere You Don’t Belong marks the arrival of a brilliant young talent.

Author Bio: Gabriel Bump grew up in South Shore, Chicago. His nonfiction and fiction have appeared in Slam magazine, the Huffington PostSpringhouse Journal, and other publications. He was awarded the 2016 Deborah Slosberg Memorial Award for Fiction. He received his MFA in fiction from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He lives in Buffalo, New York.

Review:

**ARC provided by Algonquin books through NetGalley**

Everywhere You Don’t Belong was a book I HAD to pick up. As a teacher in a Chicago school it just didn’t feel right to let this one slip by. Boy was it gooooooooood.

I went into this book mostly blind. I knew it was about a Black boy from the south side of Chicago and not much else. Even the synopsis is really vague so I had no expectations of where the story would even go. The book starts out with a consistently confusing narrative pace. You gets bits and fragments of Claude’s life, people he knows and knew, family, neighbours, teachers and so on. It feels like you’re riffling through a book, catching words and illustrations here and there and not much else. It’s fast and choppy.

But then you get to the opening incident of police violence in South Shore, right by Claude’s home, and the story REALLY slows down. The details get sharper, movement seems to happen in slow motion, everything is SHARP compared to the earlier parts of the book. This fast and slow pacing continues through the rest of it. It hit me halfway through that you’re reading this book as a memory.

no shit saniya obviously it’s a memory it’s in first person pov

Hear me out though. You read other books in first person POV as a retelling. Every single event is in sharp detail. The narrator mentions eye colour, hair colour, specks on the ground, the position of the sun and so on. This book deviates. You get a life recounted the way you as a person would remember details of your life. Flashes of childhood memories, feelings more than events and locations. But major events and shocks in life tend to stick out to you personally in stark detail. That’s what this book felt like. It genuinely felt like Claude, a real person talking, was to you about everything he experienced in his life up until the *big moment* at the end.

I spent three hours looking up what went down in South Shore circa 2004 and came up with nothing concrete which tracks considering how much police violence is buried despite being televised. Anyways, my point is this book felt like a biography which is INCREDIBLE. On the somber side of things though, the police violence, community protests, gang pushback, and more are so run of the mill that it’s not surprising that it felt real. If you haven’t already been aware of the violent racism rife in this country, I hope summer of 2020 made you well aware of it.

Needless to say, the pacing was my most favourite thing about this book. Through my reading experience, I didn’t feel like I was getting much about Claude, his family, or his friends. I understood his interactions and felt his emotions, but the writing style here really made me emotionally distant from the cast of characters and I’m not mad about that at all. That distance allowed me to enjoy the unique flow of the story much more than I thought I would.

Claude was such an interesting main character. He felt spacey and read like he was in a constant state of confusion, which mood, but I think that felt right with how much chaos was brewing in his life. He’s trying to find a place to belong and while he’s optimistic that getting out of South Shore would change things for the better, he’s not really shocked when shit stays the same anyways. He’s got a rather bleak outlook on life overall but still, as a teen and later a young man, he can’t help but feel optimistic when he’s met with new situations or familiar faces.

Claude’s family is also such a delight. The dynamic between his grandmother and Paul is incredible. You see two elder Black folks who’ve lived through the civil rights era raise a young boy to be conscious of his place and impact in the world. You also see them slap each other silly for saying ridiculous things. While I still felt distant from these characters, the relationships still felt realistic and whole.

Despite taking on some heavy topics and community struggles, this book ends on an upward outlook. Not positive, but the options of the future aren’t simply rock and hard place.

I know this book is going to resonate with a lot of my students and their siblings, especially the heartwarming family moments of love and affection.

On a closing note: if you are a non Black person reading this book, please don’t simply read and give yourself a pat on the back for engaging in ~diverse~ literature. If this book introduced you to something you didn’t know before or had you feeling some type of way, please dissect those emotions and turn them into productive activity whether it be community action or further self education on related topics. Start here if you want.

Thanks for reading! Let me know your thoughts on the book if you’ve read it 🙂

See ya next time ✌🏽😙

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