Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi ... is an extremely uniquely written dystopian narrative that discusses the prison industrial complex in a very unconventional way. In this very very short novel, Onyebuchi has found a way to leave a lasting images of the results of the justice system and its lasting effects in a world governed by technology and the labor of those who have found themselves victim of the injustice America has expounded on its Black citizens dating back to the Rodney King riots of 1992-- and earlier. Much earlier.
This book views systemic oppression from another lens. Onyebuchi gives his readers the dangerous responsibility of imagining what is possible in an America where technology and injustice go hand-in-hand. Some of the topics touched on include America's great migration, gang violence, poverty, police brutality, and slight references to gentrification and the willful ignorance of the rest of the world to the social injustices plaguing poor black people.
This is the first book I've ever read by Tochi Onyebuchi, so going into this novel, I had no idea what to expect. I am impressed with his imagination and his commitment to encouraging systemic change by way of extreme "what ifs".
While reading this novel, I found some of the descriptions in his writing were a bit obtuse, making it hard to understand what's going on, or to make some of the connections I think he intended his audience to make. For example, one of the main charterers, Ella, began developing grey/ silver hair at a relatively young age. We understand that she has a "thing", but we don't get any context around the hair. I wonder if this is an ode to Tomi Adeyemi's Orisha series.... maybe she's a Maji? We will never know.
There were also certain parts of the story where Kev (one of the main characters) goes into the past or future with his sister that are still fuzzy to me. Even after going back and reading certain parts twice, I still came back confused. There were a lot of descriptions that were so vague, they just went over my head. One specific scene I remember not fully understanding was the scene where he and his sister Ella transported to their mother's homeland after their death. If you were to ask me six months from know exactly what that was like for them, I wouldn't be able to tell you.
Toward the end, they began speaking of a special systematic, governmental algorithm, which BLEW MY MIND. Imagine! Police were being put in a position to be completely invincible, while making no corrections to the militarization issue we already have. Scary.
This novel definitely left me with a lot to think about. It put into perspective the depth and the intensity of the prison industrial complex and how certain life circumstances begat others and so on. This novel was a little bit more than a novel, rather a wake up call to be present and a request for resistance of ideas and policies that can harm the communities that need our protection the most.
Have you read this yet? What did you get from it? What did you think about the book as a whole? The people want to know.
Until next time,