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Image via Tor.com

It is no longer news that Nigerian speculative fiction writer, Tochi Onyebuchi, is set to release a new book soon, Riot BabyAccording to its publisher, Tor Books, Riot Baby is about “two gifted siblings with extraordinary power whose childhoods are destroyed by structural racism and brutality and whose futures might alter the world.” Riot Baby has been described by Booker Prize-winning novelist Marlon James as a novel that “bursts at the seams of story with so much fire, passion, and power that in the end it turns what we call a narrative into something different altogether.”

Onyebuchi, whose novel Beasts Made of Night was shortlisted for the 2018 Ilube Nommo Award for Best Speculative Fiction by an African Writer, recently announced on Twitter that he will be launching the Riot Baby at New York City’s Strand Bookstore with Marlon James on January 22, 2020.

In anticipation of the book’s release, here is an excerpt of the book on Tor’s website, which we are only too excited to share.

_________________________________________________

Ella has a Thing. She sees a classmate grow up to become a caring nurse. A neighbor’s son murdered in a drive-by shooting. Things that haven’t happened yet. Kev, born while Los Angeles burned around them, wants to protect his sister from a power that could destroy her. But when Kev is incarcerated, Ella must decide what it means to watch her brother suffer while holding the ability to wreck cities in her hands.

Rooted in the hope that can live in anger, Riot Baby is as much an intimate family story as a global dystopian narrative. It burns fearlessly toward revolution and has quietly devastating things to say about love, fury, and the black American experience.

Ella and Kev are both shockingly human and immeasurably powerful. Their childhoods are defined and destroyed by racism. Their futures might alter the world.


I
South Central

Before her Thing begins. Before even Kev is born. Before the move to Harlem. Ella on a school bus ambling through a Piru block in Compton and the kids across the aisle from her in blue giggling and throwing up Crip gang signs out the window at the Bloods in the low-rider pulling up alongside the bus. Somebody, a kid-poet, scribbling in a Staples composition notebook, head down, dutiful, praying almost. Two girls in front of Ella clapping their hands together in a faster, more intricate patty-cake, bobbing their heads side to side, smiling crescent moons at each other.

Bus slowing, then stopped. Metallic tapping on the plastic doors, which whoosh open, and warm air whooshes in with the Pirus that stomp up the steps in their red-and-black lumberjack tops with white shirts underneath and their red bandannas in their pockets and their .357 Magnums in their hands, and one of them goes up to the ringleader kid who had been throwing up the signs most fervently and presses the barrel of the gun to his temple and cocks back the hammer and tells the kid to stay in school and if he catches him chucking up another Crip sign, he’s gonna knock his fuckin’ top off, feel me? And Ella can see in the gangbanger’s eyes that he’s got no compunctions about it, that this is only half an act, it’s only half meant to scare the kid away from the corner, that if it came to it, the guy would meet disrespect with murder.

Ella hates South Central. She doesn’t know it yet, but can sense vaguely in a whisper that Harlem and a sweltering apartment and a snowball are somewhere in the distance, not close enough to touch, but close enough to see.

*

Ella calls her Grandma even though she’s not Mama’s mother. Still, she does all the grandma things. Takes Ella to church when Mama’s working or out or passed out on the couch from whatever she was doing the night before. Brings Werther’s chewy candies in the wrinkled gold wrappers whenever she comes by to help out with the chores. Keeps the bangers with their 40s of Olde English at bay when they loiter a little too close to the house and the garden that she protects like it’s her grandchild too. And now Ella’s old enough that she can sit outside on the porch to escape the heat that gets trapped indoors, the heat that turns the plastic covering the couch into a lit stovetop.

Grandma sweeps bullet shells out of the empty driveway while Ella chews on her second Werther’s of the afternoon.

Blessing, the pit bull next door, yanks itself against its chain, and Ella shakes her head, as if to say “it’s too hot, I know,” but dogs can’t talk, and this one wouldn’t listen anyway. Still, she remembers Mama telling her not to egg that dog on, not to tease it because one day the chain around its neck and the chain link fence it sometimes throws itself against won’t be enough.

One of the neighbors, LaTonya, walks by holding her baby, Jelani, against her chest, and Grandma stops sweeping and smiles, and LaTonya holds one of Jelani’s wrists and makes him wave at Grandma. “Say hi, Jelani,” LaTonya coos.

“Oooh, he’s so big!” Grandma tells LaTonya, and LaTonya brings him over, hesitating only a moment to acknowledge the pit bull.

“Pretty soon, he’ll be ready for daycare,” LaTonya says, and even from the porch, Ella can see the light twinkling in her eyes.

Grandma smiles wide. “The way you look at that child…”

“I know.” LaTonya shows her teeth when she grins, bounces Jelani a little bit. “Doesn’t look a thing like his daddy, but don’t tell Ty I said that.” And the two women giggle.

“Well, you know Lanie’s getting her business started up soon, so you should stop by. She’s been sticking sticky notes on everything, and she’s been saving up for a playpen. Even talking with the library about getting books for the kids. Lanie says we’ll eventually get a computer set up, so the kids can play their games after school. I don’t know how I feel about them staring at a screen all day, but sometimes it’s best to be indoors.”

“Well, you let me know when it’s up and running. Jelani would love to make some new friends. Ain’t that right, Jello.”

Jelani buries his face in his mother’s chest.

“Oh, he’s so shy.”

The sun feels too bright outside like it’s washing the color out of everything, and dizziness hits Ella like a brick. Grandma and LaTonya are still talking when Ella staggers to her feet and stumbles inside, and the light falls in rectangles through the burglar bars over the windows. In the bathroom, she stands over the sink and lets the blood slide a little bit from her nose before tilting her head back up. It always feels like something’s rumbling whenever she gets the nosebleeds, like the earth is gathering itself up under her, but whenever they stop, the nosebleeds, and she looks around, it’s like nobody else noticed a thing. Vertigo pitches her forward. She leans on the sink, squeezes her eyes shut and tries not to think of what she saw outside: the boy named Jelani, grown to ten years old, walking the five blocks home from school, a bounce in his walk and his eyes big and brown before a low-rider screeches nearby and a man with a blue bandana over his face levels a shotgun out the window at someone standing behind Jelani and, after the bang, everyone scatters, leaving Jelani on the ground, staring up at the too-bright sun for the last, longest two minutes of his life.

Grandma finds Ella on the floor, gasping in a long, aching wheeze, then another, then another.

“Oh, Jesus,” and suddenly, she’s at Ella’s side and has the child’s face buried in her chest and rocks her back and forth, even as Ella grows limp. “Oh, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. Spare this child.”

And Ella’s breath slows, and she comes to. “One Mississippi,” she whispers.

“What?”

“Two Mississippi.”

“Child, what are you doing?”

“Three Mississippi.” A breath. A normal one, then a heavy sigh. “Mama says, when I get my panic attacks to count my Mississippis until it goes away.”

Grandma sounds surprised when she laughs.

READ THE FULL EXCERPT ON TOR.COM

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Chukwuebuka Ibeh is a Staff Writer at Brittle Paper. An alumnus of the Purple Hibiscus Trust Creative Writing Workshop, his work has been published in McSweeneys, Clarion Review, Charles River Journal and elsewhere. He was longlisted for the Awele Creative Trust Award in 2017 and was a finalist for the 2019 Gerald Kraak Award. In 2019, he was named by Electric Literature as 'One of the Most Promising New Voices of Nigerian Fiction' in a feature introduced by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. He is a regular contributor with the New England Review of Books and lives in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.

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