This morning on CBS Sunday Morning, the cover story was a piece about gay conversion therapy. Though the introduction by Jane Pauley made it sound like this issue was something with two clear sides, the story mainly focused on the pain this practice has caused. The pain felt by those forced to undergo it, the pain felt by parents who thought they were saving their children’s souls by sending their sons and daughters to these programs, and the pain felt by certain religious figures who originally thought this practice was a good idea but have since changed their minds. One interviewee, Pastor Stan Mitchell, started speaking out against the practice in 2015 and has since lost over two thirds of his congregation, but he said, “The only thing I regret is that I didn’t do it sooner. People died while I was trying to find courage.”
Though I read Speak No Evil over a month ago, this Sunday Morning piece spurred me to get this review written (as well as the threatening overdue notices from my local library.) In this novel, Uzodinma Iweala tells the story of Niru, the son of wealthy Nigerian immigrants. He is a good student and track star at his private high school in Washington, D.C. With his heart set on Harvard, Niru is trying to live up to the success of his older brother, OJ. However, Niru has a secret that he hides from everybody (well, almost everybody)—he is gay. The only person who knows is his best friend, Meredith, who trains with him on the track team, and he has only recently disclosed this information to her.
It is in somehow speaking this truth to Meredith that Niru both feels energized and paralyzed—he knows what he wants but he is terrified of the potential repercussions if his parents or teammates on the track team find out. When Niru’s father finds a particular set of text messages on his son’s phone, Niru is on a plane back to Nigeria so quickly that he doesn’t even have time to let Meredith know.
The ramifications of this action and how it impacts both Niru and Meredith’s life is what the rest of the novel explores—in ways both intriguing and frustrating. There are choices that the author makes—especially in how the story is shared between Niru and Meredith—that threw me a bit as a reader and made me wonder, “Why?” Also, there is a moment when the plot zigs right and I wonder if the more interesting and difficult story to tell is if it had zigged left.
All that aside, Iweala writes viscerally and vividly and you really feel the world from both Niru and Meredith’s point of view. This would make a great book club book precisely because of the choices the author makes and what you make of those decisions. It’s worth reading but it may also make you want to throw it against the wall (so maybe don’t read it on your Kindle).
#CBR10 Bingo Square – Listicles