I haven’t read a book that made me mad in a really long time. I’m glad that this book was the break from that. When I get mad at a book that’s really good, it’s because of how it all played out and what the outcome of everyone’s actions led to. It’s been a really long time since I felt this way and honestly, I appreciate the anger.
Here’s more about the book
On the surface, Niru leads a charmed life. Raised by two attentive parents in Washington, D.C., he’s a top student and a track star at his prestigious private high school. Bound for Harvard in the fall, his prospects are bright. But Niru has a painful secret: he is queer—an abominable sin to his conservative Nigerian parents. No one knows except Meredith, his best friend, the daughter of prominent Washington insiders—and the one person who seems not to judge him.
When his father accidentally discovers Niru is gay, the fallout is brutal and swift. Coping with troubles of her own, however, Meredith finds that she has little left emotionally to offer him. As the two friends struggle to reconcile their desires against the expectations and institutions that seek to define them, they find themselves speeding toward a future more violent and senseless than they can imagine. Neither will escape unscathed.
There is so much jammed into this book. It’s seriously only 200 pages long but it unpacks a fury of themes that are so relevant to today.
I really loved this novel. I loved the story about the young Nigerian American who has his whole life ahead of him and how sadly all that was taken away from him. The story also made me frustratingly mad.
One of the many reasons why I’m mad is that Niru just realized he was gay. He didn’t like Meredith, his long time friend, in the same way that she did. When Meredith finds out that he’s gay, she goes ahead and tries to fully embrace this even before Niru has embraced it himself. What does she end up doing? She signs him up for Grindr and forces him to go on a date with a guy he hasn’t met.
With that one fatal mistake, Niru is then confronted by his father about his sexual orientation and let me tell you, Niru’s dad was not happy about it.
The second reason why this book made me so mad is that Niru’s dad proceeds to fly him out to Nigeria for help with his gay son. Already, Niru struggled with coming out to his parents and was forced to fly to Nigeria and “pray the gay away.” I can only imagine how embarrassing that can feel especially when you’re just learning your sexual orientation.
The final reason why this book made me so mad is the pivot from a story about a young person trying to come to terms with their sexuality, to a story about another innocent black boy being shot and killed by the police.
At this final reason, I was livid. I felt so much for Niru. I wanted him to discover his sexuality and learn about it slowly and eventually find himself someone he loved in a city that embraced him. I wanted to see Niru’s father finally come around and realize that if he lost his son, this would be the second child he would never see again. I wanted Meredith to be proud for her friend and leave aside her feelings for him.
But none of that happened. Instead, another person was innocently lost to the racial injustices of this world.
“Speak No Evil” has two different meanings in this book. The first is Niru’s inability to voice his feelings and his sexuality. It’s tough being young and coming out, so I could understand his silence but it’s a shame that his father found out the way he did and ultimately left him to feel alienated by his own family without a person to turn to.
The other meaning is Meredith’s silence. When Niru was shot, he was accused of rape and abuse. However, he was just trying to talk to his friend who was very inebriated and inconsolable. What the police believed to be an attack on a young woman was in fact just a less-than-friendly argument between two friends. And yet, that conversation cost him his life and his reputation.
The silence comes from Meredith never explaining to the police what happened. From the officer’s perspective, she was being raped. However, she’s the only person who knew the truth and she kept silent. It was almost a punishment for Niru because he didn’t love her the way that she wanted. She couldn’t imagine her future without him and now she’s punishing him for never giving her what she wanted.
It just really wanted me to reach out into the book and punch her in the face. I know that’s not the most friendly thing to say in a book review, but it’s true. Meredith’s silence left Niru’s reputation and life to mean nothing but another black kid who will never see his bright future.
But we should continue with reviewing the book.
The writing itself was not traditionally written. It had Niru’s voice up until the second part where the narrative switches to Meredith. All throughout Niru’s narrative, all you wanted to do was reach out and help him.
He seemed so lost and so afraid and so confused by his life and the decisions that his family made on his behalf. It was so frustrating and a feeling that many people can resonate with. It’s not easy knowing what you want and feeling the obligation of keeping your parents happy. I know I’ve felt that way numerous times with my folks.
In the end, you learn a lot about one unassuming person who had everything waiting for him after he graduated from high school. And then you see that life snubbed out by people who didn’t understand him, people who found him threatening, and people who couldn’t see beyond the stereotypes. If anything, you learn that if you see something, you should really say something.
• Hardcover, 215 pages
• Harper Books (March 6, 2018)
• Rating: 4/5 stars
I received a copy of this book from Harper Books for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.
3 thoughts on “Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala”
I thought this book was fantastic too, you’re right – it’s amazing how much is packed into a relatively short novel! Great review 😊
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Even after I wrote this up, I was thinking of other stuff the book could represent. I will have to give this book another go in the future for more stuff.
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