Reviews for Nightcrawling

by Leila Mottley

Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

For Kiara Johnson, life in her familys studio at Oaklands Regal-Hi Apartments might be bleakmattress on the floor, cackling crack addict next door, bags of dog poop bobbing in the complex swimming poolbut its all she knows, and shell do what it takes to preserve it.Life has never been easy for Kiara. Her father died when she was 13, her mother attempted suicide and is now living in a halfway house, and Vernon, the landlord, has just doubled the rent. Older brother Marcus thinks his nonexistent hip-hop skills will be their golden ticket, so its up to high school dropout Kiara to look for work at Walgreens, CVS, and finer stores everywhere, including the strip club where Marcus ex now tends bar. No diceKis only 17. A drunken coupling with a club patron thats more non- than consensual yields her virginity, a quick $200, and a really bad ideajust till I get us out of our rent debt. While the eventual tale of sexual violence, police corruption, and injustice preordained is inspired by real-life Oakland events, its Kiaras intense, anguished interiority rendered in lovely and poetic exposition that drives this evocation of an underclass and the disposable women just trying to survive. If the rich language occasionally tips toward impenetrable (brushing against my skin like 7-Eleven slushies in the winter?), so too does the hard trap Kiara cant escape, the engineered tragedy of intersectional poverty, racism, and misogyny. The acute observations are more remarkable still considering the author is herself a promising Oakland teen.Plot, shmotthe real story here is lush, immersive writing and a relentless reality that crushes a girls soul. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Mottley, Oakland’s former Youth Poet Laureate, debuts with a bold and beautiful account of two Black siblings striving to thrive and survive. Seventeen-year-old Kiara and her older brother, Marcus, have been on their own since their single mother was convicted of negligent homicide three years earlier. When the landlord raises the rent on their Oakland studio apartment, Kiara grows desperate. Marcus is no help; he can’t hold down a job while he chases dreams of becoming a hip-hop star. Kiara turns a few tricks—at first, just enough to pay the rent and buy groceries for her and the neighbor’s son she’s taking care of. But soon Kiara is caught up in a sex-trafficking ring servicing Bay Area cops, and her world collapses when the scandal goes public. Mottley powerfully chronicles Kiara’s desperation and her bravery, as well as her determination to keep moving forward despite the crushing torrent of losses affecting her family as well as those of everyone she knows. Scenes of realism are rendered with a poet’s eye, as Kiara experiences moments of beauty and joy by tagging an underpass wall with spray paint, learning to swim in a dirty pool, and finding shelter in the arms of a friend. This heartrending story makes for a powerful testament to a Black woman’s resilience. Agent: Molly Friedrich, Friedrich Agency. (June)


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

Having grown up at the height of gentrification in Oakland, California, 17-year-old Kiara Johnson is strong. Her father, a Black Panther, died after falling ill in prison, while her mother has struggled with a severe mental disorder since the tragic loss of Kiara’s youngest sister. Kiara lives with her brother Marcus, who wants to make it in the music business. Supporting them both in the meantime, Kiara will do whatever it takes to keep a roof over their heads. When Kiara begins to work the streets, it’s for survival. But that doesn’t matter to the members of the Oakland police force who traffic Kiara and use her for sex. When one member of the circle of cops commits suicide and leaves a note describing what he and his coworkers did to Kiara, an underage girl, Kiara’s entire world blows up. She’s forced to face the public, with all the scrutiny, victim blaming, and class shaming that the attention entails. Kiara is an unforgettable dynamo, and her story brings critical human depth to conversations about police sexual violence. Mottley, an activist and the 2018 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate, lends her deft hand for poetics to the prose of this stunning debut novel.


Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

DEBUT Much of the discussion around Mottley's first novel is sure to focus on the author's age—17 when she began writing, currently attending college—but this is a forceful work even outside of this remarkable context. Following high-school dropout Kiara, on the cusp of 18 and living with her brother Marcus, who aspires to rap stardom, Mottley's narrative charts the myriad tragedies that scar this young woman as she struggles to care for those she loves, all the while becoming mired in a police misconduct scandal. It's a work of devastating social realism but cut through with a strain of pulp fiction—or perhaps more accurately, it acknowledges the pulpish shape of so many modern American realities—and it's executed with relentless momentum, built of purely dramatic moments and steeped in emotions that are wrung from characters as if they were wet rags. As a result, there's a certain melodramatic texture, and the construction of narrative incident can sometimes feel a bit inelegant. But it's held together by Mottley's singular voice, rife with frequent poetic flourishes and almost impatient with energy. VERDICT Undeniably bleak but littered with small beauties and a powerful discourse on the dehumanizing effects policing can have on marginalized communities, bodies, and minds (and especially on Black women). Mottley's novel understands that sometimes a happy ending just means surviving.—Luke Gorham


Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Black teenagers Kiara and brother Marcus live alone in a grubby East Oakland apartment, having dropped out of high school when their family imploded. Marcus aspires to rap stardom, while Kiara scrambles to find paying work to support them and the abandoned nine-year-old who lives next door. When she reluctantly turns to streetwalking, she ends up as a key witness in a scandal involving the Oakland Police Department's exploitation of young sex workers. Echoing a real-life 2015 case; 19-year-old Mottley was the 2018 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate, and her first short story, "Juneteenth Babies," appeared in Oprah Daily.


Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

For Kiara Johnson, life in her family’s studio at Oakland’s Regal-Hi Apartments might be bleak—mattress on the floor, cackling crack addict next door, bags of dog poop bobbing in the complex swimming pool—but it’s all she knows, and she’ll do what it takes to preserve it. Life has never been easy for Kiara. Her father died when she was 13, her mother attempted suicide and is now living in a halfway house, and Vernon, the landlord, has just doubled the rent. Older brother Marcus thinks his nonexistent hip-hop skills will be their golden ticket, so it’s up to high school dropout Kiara to look for work at Walgreens, CVS, and finer stores everywhere, including the strip club where Marcus’ ex now tends bar. No dice—Ki’s only 17. A drunken coupling with a club patron that’s more non- than consensual yields her virginity, a quick $200, and a really bad idea—“just till I get us out of our rent debt.” While the eventual tale of sexual violence, police corruption, and injustice preordained is inspired by real-life Oakland events, it’s Kiara’s intense, anguished interiority rendered in lovely and poetic exposition that drives this evocation of an underclass and the disposable women just trying to survive. If the rich language occasionally tips toward impenetrable (“brushing against my skin like 7-Eleven slushies in the winter”?), so too does the hard trap Kiara can’t escape, the engineered tragedy of intersectional poverty, racism, and misogyny. The acute observations are more remarkable still considering the author is herself a promising Oakland teen. Plot, shmot—the real story here is lush, immersive writing and a relentless reality that crushes a girl’s soul. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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