cover image Gone Like Yesterday

Gone Like Yesterday

Janelle M. Williams. Tiny Reparations, $27 (368p) ISBN 978-0-593-47163-0

Williams melds a ghost story with a frank reflection on the complexities of Black identity in her vivid if didactic debut. Zahra, a college prep coach living in pre-pandemic Harlem, helps wealthy high school seniors craft essays for their applications to Ivy League schools. She’s plagued by gypsy moths that she and her brother Derrick have seen and heard since their childhood in Atlanta (not only do they swarm, they sing a jumble of rhythm and blues, Afrofuturism, trap, and other genres). When Zahra, eager to “help someone whose essay doesn’t reek of privilege,” agrees to coach Sammie, the niece of an Uber driver and one of the few Black kids at a prep school where well-meaning teachers praise the work of Zadie Smith and Colson Whitehead but fidget when discussing race, she discovers that the moths flock to Sammie, too. Derrick’s disappearance, Zahra’s road trip with Sammie to find him in Atlanta, and an old house groaning with phantoms fill out the third act. Though a few of Zahra’s monologues lack nuance, Williams still pulls off an elegant study of Sammie and Zahra’s attempts to connect with their roots. This is worth a look. Agent: Cora Markowitz, Georges Borchardt Agency. (Feb.)