Blackout – Book Review

Beloved authors Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon celebrate the beauty of Black love in Blackout, an unforgettable interlinked novel of charming, hilarious, and heartwarming stories that take place on a sweltering starry night through New York’s many boroughs.

Here’s the summary…

A summer heatwave blankets New York City in darkness. But as the city is thrown into confusion, a different kind of electricity sparks…

A first meeting.

Long-time friends.

Bitter exes.

And maybe the beginning of something new.

When the lights go out, people reveal hidden truths. Love blossoms, friendship transforms, and new possibilities take flight.

It should come as no surprise that when you assemble this roster of talent, led by the brilliant Dhonielle Clayton, good things will happen, and in the case of Blackout, the end result is a romance infused anthology that is both vital and compelling. And despite its lofty premise, Clayton has assembled (along with herself) these five story-telling machines that can prose-battle with the best of them, so yeah, I’m sure confidence was very high going into this sucker. It’s like a rap battle only there are no losers, well, maybe white people who don’t normally get romance this good.

It’s true that Blackout isn’t as simple an idea as it seems, certainly not when it comes to execution, and under Clayton, this thing just keeps on working, story after story. The anthology/short story format is a different muscle, and these authors seem to revel in being given the greenlight to remove almost everything not relevant to a story, while maintaining wit and cleverness. Not once is the artistry diminished through fluff and their thoughts are precise and crisp making Blackout a VERY easy read. Most will get through this in one day either as a summer read outside with a cool drink, or under the covers late a night with a flashlight.

What makes Blackout unique is Jackson’s The Long Walk, which is told over five parts and spread throughout the book. These five parts off-set the other shorts, providing the connective tissue as the story’s mains, exes Tammi and Kareem, are forced to make the long (and sweaty) walk from Harlem to Brooklyn after a chance encounter at the Apollo Theatre, where they are both hoping to land an internship. Short on money, battery life, and with the blackout is full effect, they slowly make their way through the city, forced to deal with all sorts of realities, including the details of their breakup. The destination is Twig’s block party in their neighborhood where Kareem is DJ’ing, and where all six stories ultimately converge. What the state of their relationship will be by the time they arrive and what affect that will have on their future(s) is Jackson’s focus, besides presenting the book’s perspective.

Speaking of perspective, like I said, with Twigs (you’ll meet him, and you’ll love him) block party serving as the convergence point for the six stories, I’m struck at the vanishing point concept in use here. Like a railroad track, the stories start out as parallel lines, and the further along you get into Blackout, the closer the lines begin to appear, or “converge”. This of course creates perspective and that’s the name of the game here. And what that also does is make this book a journey book, with the destination, while important (and probably the best party ever), not the overall goal. Getting these blackout induced wayfarer’s to the party, these strangers, friends, would-be lovers, and families to come to together, and the events leading up to it, that’s the story of Blackout.

From the books that I’ve read, all six authors have clear mandates in their solo work, which I’m happy to say spills over into Blackout. With an ongoing commitment to authentic characters, prevailing attitudes and cool sensibilities, clever and well-timed pop references, and sophisticated dialogue regardless of the subject matter, each story is devised and precisely delivered to create empathy, to varying amounts of success. There’s no point in denying the fact that all stories aren’t created equal so these shorts range from good to great, with your personal taste in romance tropes likely determining how they rank. For example, I loathe “second chance” romance so Tiffany’s The Long Walk, while clever in its overall design and purpose, and plotted VERY well, wasn’t my favorite of the bunch. But its function was executed to perfection, and as the architect of this particular tie that binds, Ms. Jackson has no equal.

Besides the connective tissues and fun Easter Eggs (and there are lots), there’s also value to be found in each and every story, whether it’s Stone’s blistering social commentary in Mask Off or Clayton’s hope inspired All the Great Love Stories… and Dust, it’s true that all these stories work just as well together as they do apart. But for my money, Thomas’s No Sleep ‘til Brooklyn and Woodfolk’s Made to Fit both lead the way for me with their usual brand of genius. Not to say one story is better than the other, it’s just these two stories in particular spoke to my personal tastes and sensibilities as a reader.

For No Sleep ‘til Brooklyn, Thomas gives us a taste of just about everything she’s good at, a female lead in Kayla who doesn’t need to be defined by anyone, let alone a romantic relationship, a picture of the micro aggressive penchants of racism people of color experience every single day, and a modern sensibility and use of language that gives us powerhouse supporting characters, in this case, Jazmyn. With a magical tour bus and wise sage as her driver you’ll fall for, a love triangle, a “Karenator” chaperone (the final form of Karen…lol), and again, Jazmyn, this short is a home run. Thomas is approaching icon status at this point, if not already, and while I’m always anticipating her next book, I’m literally foaming at the mouth for her middle-grade fantasy WIP which has the code name is “literal Black girl magic”.

I loved last year’s When You Were Everything, I love pitbulls (used to have one), I love insta-love romances (my favorite trope), I’m a Pisces, and I love Made to Fit by Ahsley Woodfolk. Yes, Nella Rose Jackson and Jocellyn “Joss” Mae Williams are the inverse of star-crossed; in fact it seems the entire universe is in cahoots trying to get these two sweet souls to find each other, not keep them apart. One of these forces is Ike, the grandpappy of Nella and just about the sweetest old dude ever, and he along with a great top-to-bottom cast make Made to Fit a total pleasure to read. Call it kismet, providence, coincidence, or luck; call it whatever you want, but magic is definitely sprinkled all over this, the sweetest story of the bunch. With a great supporting cast, Ziggy the dog, a beautiful generational love story connection, and a steamy first-kiss for the ages, this short by Ashley had me feeling all the emotions.

Again, EVERY SINGLE STORY is written with a high level of skill and thought, and when the quality is there, personal preference will play a role in which story’s speak to you more than others. Looking at Blackout as one story with multiple POV’s on the other hand will give you a high recognition score as a handful of characters appear multiple times, usually with just a brief mention, but it works very well and is a lot of fun. And it’s hard not to recognize the cinematic quality this book has as the one-night/real-time interconnectivity of it is screaming for a “One-Shot” film adaptation. Throw in the drama of a blackout, the magic of a Brooklyn setting, and a strong cast of characters, well, it seems like a no-brainer to me.

It’s of course a team effort but Ms. Clayton is the mad genius behind this project, bringing the group together. And as someone who still doesn’t get enough credit for her groundbreaking The Belles, I can’t help but feel she’s becoming (even more so) a major force in publishing and will help shape the future of not only what I read, but the masses as well. Through her work with We Need Diverse Books and tireless efforts to be a champion for fellow authors of color, she’s a force to be reckoned with and it’s impossible not to admire her, I know I do.

So, what’s the bottom line?

With Dhonielle Clayton providing the impetus and Tiffany D. Jackson providing the Möbius strip for this collection of shorts by friends and fellow literary superstars Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon, Blackout delivers a high-quality brand of storytelling magic that only comes along once or twice a year. And in the case of representation, specifically Black girl representation, I’m sorry to say, this is not something we get nearly enough of even with so much attention being afforded to it the last couple of years. So, these few, these band of sisters, along with a handful of others, will carry the torch for as long as it takes to make Blackout the norm, not the exception.

But I’ll leave you with this, whatever you’re in the mood for, I promise you, this book has you covered.

Blackout is out now, click HERE to order a copy today!

Author Links:

Dhonielle Clayton | Tiffany D. Jackson | Nic Stone | Angie Thomas | Ashely WoodFolk | Nicola Yoon

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