Hi everyone! Today I will be reviewing Uzodinma Iweala’s Speak No Evil, which I gratefully received from John Murray and Netgalley. Our protagonist is Niru, a teenager living in Washington DC. He appears to have it all: a star track runner bound for Harvard who is surrounded by friends and family. Except Niru is gay, something his strict Nigerian parents find sinful. With his life flipped upside down, Niru must try and navigate the precarious situation he is in.
Iweala does an excellent job of capturing the experience of being a teenager, filled with all the anxieties and hopes during that period. Whenever an adult tries to write in the style of somebody younger, I very often roll my eyes at the tired (and often wrong) cliches they spout out. Here however, Iweala successfully manages to pull off a teenage voice. The pop culture references are not shoe-horned in, but rather naturally appear in conversations. The stresses of exams and extra-curricular activities are so well-done, they reminded me of my own experience at that time in my life.
The difficulties of being a teenager are successfully blended together with wider themes of identity. Niru and Meredith, Niru’s best friend who is the first to find out he is gay, struggle to find their place in the world, as many teenagers do. But being gay when it is forbidden, and being black in a predominantly white city, adds more pressure and Iweala captures Niru’s confusion and frustration beautifully. He is discovering his identity as a teenager but that identity is seen as different by his family and peers. This plays into a much more broader discussion, namely the treatment of black people and the LGBTQ+ community in the USA, as well as movements such as Black Lives Matter. Iweala navigates between the personal and the political very well.
However where the novel really excels is through its imagery. The language is beautiful and evocative, in particular a scene where Meredith is walking through Washington DC. I felt like I was pounding the pavements alongside her, so vivid Iweala had painted that picture. The recurring imagery of running laced throughout the story was also great. Both Niru and Meredith are into athletics, and we see them at various practices. Yet the physical act of them running becomes a metaphor, whether that is leaving the city or going to college, they are escaping from their lives here in search of a better one.
Overall, I thought Speak No Evil was a stunning piece of work. Iweala tackles very serious, sensitive subjects such as race and sexuality, as well as weaves a very compelling story. The novel isn’t long but certainly packs a punch. The characters are well fleshed-out and their voices are believable. The imagery used is also incredibly beautiful and poignant. I would highly recommend Speak No Evil.
Speak No Evil will be published in March by John Murray and you can find more information here.