Hell of a Book

This ambitious novel from Jason Mott (The Crossing; The Returned)--a Shelf Awareness Best Book, a National Book Award winner, and both an Ebony and Read with Jenna Today Show Book Club Pick--explores the topography of lingering grief and trauma, as well as the pressures and contradictions of fame for a Black man in the U.S.

Alternating chapters tell the stories of two heroes: an African American boy nicknamed "Soot," and a nameless-by-choice African American author on tour for his breakout novel, Hell of a Book. Soot, bullied for the darkness of his skin, tries to master the knack of becoming invisible, which his parents believe will guarantee his safety in their rural North Carolina community. As he travels a country mourning its latest police shooting victim, the author finds his steps dogged by "the Kid," a 10-year-old boy with skin "darker than the darkness of sleep" whom only he can see. The Kid insists he's real, but the author, who has a condition that allows his mind to "break the boundaries between reality and imagination," isn't so sure. As the author tries to shut out the world's expectations and inequities, his story intersects with Soot's and the Kid's in surprising ways.

The sands of reality constantly shift under readers' feet as the author feels pressure to ignore his Blackness or speak out about Black issues, receives a visitation from Nicholas Cage and faces the truth about his book's tragic genesis. Mott's unflinching meditation on racism, violence and navigating life as a Black man in America is a surreal and searing triumph. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

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