cover image Long Division

Long Division

Kiese Laymon. Scribner, $17 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-982174-82-8

In this revised and improved edition of Laymon’s visionary debut novel (after the memoir Heavy), Blackness, language, and love frame a complex metafictional and time-traveling story about the legacy of racism. Fourteen-year-old Citoyen “City” Coldson, from Jackson, Miss., is one of two Black students competing in a nationally televised grammar contest in 2013 (the other is named LaVander Peeler). When City finds out the contest is rigged, he goes on an on-camera rant and becomes Internet-famous overnight. In the aftermath, City’s parents send him to live with his grandmother, and he brings with him a book titled Long Division, which has no author credited. Laymon then plunges readers into the pages of City’s book, in which the protagonist, also named City, time travels from 1985 with a friend to 2013. There, they meet Baize Shephard, whose parents disappeared during Hurricane Katrina. The three teens then travel to 1964 to save City’s grandfather from the KKK. While the time shifts can be confusing, historical moments such as Katrina and Freedom Summer help give grounding, as does strong characterization. At times humorous (when City feels insecure around LaVander, he calls him “Lavender” or “Fade Don’t Fade”) and often tragic, this coming-of-age story makes clear the characters’ struggle for self-determination under systemic racism. It’s a challenging work, and worth the effort. Agent: PJ Mark, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (June)