Title: The City We Became
Author: N.K. Jemisin
Are there LGBT characters? Yes, several characters are queer. At least 3 out of the 6 main characters are on the rainbow spectrum.
Brief summary / book review: This book is freaking incredible. One of the things I loved the most about it was just that it *gets* New York. The avatar for Manhattan isn’t someone who was born there, but a transplant — someone who showed up in the city and 5 minutes later, became the city. Like, that’s just how it works. You don’t have to be born in New York to be a New Yorker. You are a New Yorker simply by *being* a New Yorker. Despite its real-life reputation, the city is welcoming. Possessive, even — once you become a New Yorker, that’s it, that’s all there is to it.
The opening scene of the book even extends a welcoming hand to people from New Jersey, and as someone who used to live in Jersey City and now lives in Hoboken, I was pumped and grateful that we were seen and validated as part of the city. Jersey City and Hoboken may not officially be a part of New York City, but our lives are so intertwined with the city that we literally wouldn’t exist without it. Like the opening scene says, the Port Authority made it so — connected to the city by bus, subway, train, and ferry; so many of us see ourselves as an extension of the city.
It just makes me feel warm and fuzzy that this feeling is reciprocated.
The other boroughs feel spot on, too — Brooklyn has that self-assured swagger and maturity; Bronx is a prickly take-no-bullshit figure, Queens is the daughter of immigrants, and Staten Island values its home and its distance from the urban center of the city.
Oh, and did I mention it’s queer? Like, super queer. Gays and lesbians abound! In point of view characters, no less (truly, an aspirational goal for all novels).
The book is delightfully foul-mouthed and funny, filled with righteous anger and that je ne sais quoi attitude that just comes naturally to the millions that live here.
That said, I loved this book so much mainly because I identified with so many things about it (and not just the fact that Manhattan and New York City and the Bronx are hella gay — the whole thing about city life in the Big Apple, really). But I do wonder how a reader from, say, Miami or Austin or Seattle might feel reading this. Or someone who doesn’t live in a city. The book resonated with me because I live here, but would I have felt the same if I still lived in a small suburb? Not sure. Either way, it’s not a criticism, just me wondering out loud.
The other thing that I wonder about is the immediacy of the book. This is a book written for a particular moment, THIS moment. It has very specific references to racist movements and identities and attitudes. While racist attitudes in general are sadly generational and systemic, as are some of the themes covered in this book (gentrification, police authority, etc), there are a number of things that are very tied to today’s movements (Proud Boys, for example).
So I wonder how these issues will feel when I go back and re-read this book, say 5 years from now. Part of the reason I felt angry and frustrated and scared during certain scenes is because it had such immediacy, but when we’re a little removed from this particular moment, one way or another, will those feelings remain?
Again, just thinking out loud. The one special gift that N.K. Jemisin has in her books is that I always find myself thinking about them for days and weeks afterwards. If you love New York and feel like you identify on some level with the city and its people, you shouldn’t miss this book.
About the ‘Are There LGBT Characters’ series of posts: Being a gay reader, I am interested in LGBT books, but I haven’t always seen reviews clearly note if there are LGBT characters and how significant they are. These mini reviews are my way of addressing this problem.