A book is nothing without a strong protagonist. “Everywhere You Don’t Belong” has a great one in Claude McKay Love. The story follows him along while he navigates the complicated world of a young black child. He’s abandoned by his parents at age five, raised by his activist grandmother, and surrounded by violence on the Southside of Chicago. The whole book is Claude trying to run away (unsuccessfully) from racism, injustice, and violence.
There are many powerful sections of this book – especially when riots take over Claude’s neighborhood. The horrors he witnesses help shape him into a scared, mistrustful young adult. It’s hard for the reader to really understand the full depths of despair that Claude feels – partly because Gabriel Bump writes with a really wry, dark humor. But this blend of wit and sensitivity allows the reader to more fully immerse themselves in Claude’s world. My favorite aspect of the novel is the way that Bump writes with repetition. Phrases are frequently repeated on the page, which gives a nice rhythm to the writing and to the story itself.
As much as I loved and respected Claude, I can’t give this book more than 3.5 stars because I felt like a lot of it sort of went over my head. This probably has more to do with me rather than the book, but I didn’t feel like the book was 100 percent accessible. I felt my attention wander during some parts because I had to concentrate quite a bit to follow the plot and the dialogue.
I get that Bump was trying to give us a window into an incredibly difficult topic – it’s never easy to write about how systemic racism is infecting a neighborhood and the people who live there. And I loved Claude’s optimistic hope for a future without violence. However, I think some readers may be turned off by the unconventional writing style like I was. I’m definitely interested in seeing what Bump works on next – it’s just that as a debut novelist, he might still be navigating how to use his voice effectively.
*Free ARC provided by Netgalley and Algonquin Books in exchange for an honest review*