cover image Monster in the Middle

Monster in the Middle

Tiphanie Yanique. Riverhead, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-1-59463-360-7

Yanique (How to Escape from a Leper Colony) inventively juxtaposes the start of a new relationship with family histories in this sumptuous saga. Fly Lovett meets Stela Jones in early 2020 during the lockdown in New York City, while he’s enrolled in grad school for music theory and she’s doing teacher training for high school biology. Yanique builds up to their meeting by recounting their parents’ failed relationships, as well as their own. Fly’s father, Gary, a Black man who deploys an idiosyncratic range of religious practices to cope with his mental illness, holds a flame for a white girlfriend well into his marriage with Ellenora and past the birth of their son, Earl, in 1991. Earl, rechristened Fly by a scamming preacher, later has his heart broken in college by a woman who uses sex as a missionizing tool. Meanwhile, Stela’s mother, an orphan from Saint Thomas, Virgin Islands, raises Stela with her second husband. Stela breaks off an engagement to her first love, a South African–born white American, after a traumatic experience on her semester abroad in Ghana. Each arc reads as an evocative short story and an episode in the two protagonists’ complex set of unraveled connections. This introspective exploration of first and lasting loves will hit the spot with fans of character-driven family dramas. Agent: Elise Capron, Sandra Dijkstra Literary. (Oct.)