cover image Nightcrawling


Leila Mottley. Knopf, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-0-593-31893-5

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)