Interconnected stories of teen love in NYC
Blackout is a literary supergroup’s ode to joy.
Six celebrated young-adult novelists teamed up to create the novel’s interconnected stories of love, all of which spotlight teens during a blackout in New York City.
It’s a gorgeous, contemporary look at young Black people connecting and reconnecting on their own terms. It’s a “testament to the beauty of Black love,” notes Dhonielle Clayton, author of The Belles, co-author of the Tiny Pretty Things series and editor of the anthology A Universe of Wishes. She’s also chief operating officer of We Need Diverse Books, and organized the project.
“I wanted to show Black teens that they deserve to be the center of love stories and not just the supportive sidekick or waiting in the wings,” Clayton told Publishers Weekly. “I was lucky that all these brilliant women said yes to my wild idea.”
Her co-authors are fellow literary powerhouses. The framing narrative comes from Grown author Tiffany D. Jackson, whose hip-hop-infused mystery Let Me Hear a Rhyme has just been optioned for development by a team at Peacock Entertainment, including Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson.
Jackson’s multi-act tale centers on one-time couple Kareem and Tammi. The two ghosted each other but reconnect cute when they’re both tapped for a summer internship at Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theater.
Bestselling author Nic Stone (Dear Martin, Dear Justyce) is here, as is The Hate U Give and Concrete Rose creator Angie Thomas. Flyy Girls series author Ashley Woodfolk’s third standalone novel, Nothing Burns As Bright As You, publishes next spring. You may have seen Nicola Yoon, a National Book Award finalist for The Sun Is Also A Star, on a recent CBS This Morning segment talking about her newest novel, Instructions for Dancing. Yoon and her husband, David Yoon, recently launched their own imprint at Random House devoted to teen love stories published by and about people of color.
Each author brings her own stamp to the story, while never veering so far outside the lines that it distracts. As the blackout continues, Kareem and Tammi start walking towards home. Tammi’s wondering what Kareem’s thinking. Kareem keeps insisting he needs to use Tammi’s phone, though he won’t say who he’s calling. And there’s still a block party looming, a destination for many of the characters in these linked tales.
Turns out that the blackout illuminates feelings. In Woodfolk’s lustrous chapter, elders send Nella and Joss to look for an important photograph.
Nella is still smarting over Bree, who she’d thought was her girlfriend. But Joss is the person who truly understands Nella, and, importantly, balances out her anxiety: “Don’t you think it’s possible that this could be good?” Joss tells Nella. “That maybe this won’t lead to disaster at all? What if you, with your sweetness and your too-soft heart, those pretty eyes and very short skirts, are exactly what I’ve been waiting for?”
In Clayton’s segment, a pair of lifelong best friends ducks into the New York Public Library, but one has an agenda. Tristán is oblivious to Lana’s plans to reveal her true feelings, which we see through charming footnotes that mirror her thoughts. “Do you think you can be a totally different person in a different place? Your insides and outsides transforming into another you?”
There are links between many of the characters, but the real through line of this book is love. Some romances are more star-crossed than others, yet all feature a deep appreciation of Black teens and their humanity. That makes Blackout a beautiful, hopeful balm of a book.
(Quill Tree Books/Harper Collins, June 22, 2021)