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Riot Baby

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Member Reviews

Strange, beautiful surreal moments filtered through a prism of green and blue...You think more deeply about our soul-crushing prison system when Onyebuchi's writing sings loud and confident, stands too close to the microphone, and reaches an unexpected crescendo.
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Powerful and emotional, riot baby is loaded with a fiery passion for change told in a intriguing twist of genres.
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I listened to this as an audiobook via Hoopla. Initially, I wasn't sure if I wanted to read this. This was more about black trauma and less about the magic- which is what I wanted. But, Onyebuchi did a good job of pulling me into the story. I am not bothered that the magic is fueled by anger or that it was violent. Of course, because this is a novella, my other complaint is that I wish that it was just a little bit longer. I am just as interested in the magic as I am with the characters. But it's lacking on the magical details. 

*I was given  a digital copy of this title, free. All opinions are my own.*
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An exceptional novella about trauma, violence, and the ongoing epidemic of police brutality and systemic racism toward black people--with a speculative twist. This is one of those books too good and engulfing to put down once you've picked it up. Siblings, one with overwhelming powers she can't fully control and the other living the horrors of incarceration, struggle to come to terms with their reality--and then decide coming to terms with it is the absolute last thing they should do. 

Riot Baby is an excellent, explosive read. Short, impactful, and worth every minute and every page.
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An incredibly moving story that perfectly captures #blacklivesmatter and prison abolition without ever speaking either phrase. Should be on required reading lists in schools.
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Enjoyed Onyebuchi's novella and the complexities woven in this form that looks at voice and history and family trauma.
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Riot Baby is the type of novel that you wonder how its all going to come together and then suddenly at the end it all makes sense.

Its a tale of hardship, sorrow, familial bonds and found family. Underlying (and blatantly stated) themes include those of systemic racism, police brutality, slavery and wanton abuse. 

With a lot of novellas, I get a sense that portions were skipped in order to come under that all important word limit. With Riot Baby, everything feels vast and expansive, especially when things are considered from Ella's POV.

My main qualm with this was attempting to wrap my head around the continuously changing time line and point of view. After a while it seemed like each break would swap POV but then, i was proved wrong. 

If you are after a novella with a purpose, that purpose being to shine a light on the criminal justice system, and occasionally society in generals, treatment of non-white citizens, this is it. If you're after a novella that deals with abuse, racism and discrimination, this is it. If you want a happy tale where everyone could be a resident of Stepford, maybe give it a miss
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Rooted in foundational loss and the hope that can live in anger, Riot Baby is both a global dystopian narrative an intimate family story with quietly devastating things to say about love, fury, and the black American experience.

Ella and Kev are brother and sister, both gifted with extraordinary power. Their childhoods are defined and destroyed by structural racism and brutality. Their futures might alter the world. When Kev is incarcerated for the crime of being a young black man in America, Ella—through visits both mundane and supernatural—tries to show him the way to a revolution that could burn it all down.
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”We don’t get where we’re going by matching hate for hate.”

This is an odd little story. I’m not sure I understood it all. But I hope I got enough of it that I know what Toni Onyebuchi is trying to say. It jumps around a lot. So be prepared to really pay attention.

My favourite part is when Onyebuchi describes using algorithms that are coded to persecute POC as the same as cops making conscious decisions. This is very powerful to me. Thus stating, systematic racism is no different than allowing a computer to run a program and determine the outcome. It’s 100% predictable. Sadly I think this absolutely true. People have been coded to react a certain way based on the colour of someone’s skin.

My privileged white girl self is completely at a loss on how to break things down and fight back to help all POC most days. Certainly understanding is the obvious first step. I desire to do more and so am trying to consume ownvoices fiction and truly listen to what is being said. Questioning my own thoughts and actions regarding race; and no longer letting family or friends make casual racist remarks. It’s long past time to call people out for what they say and how they say it. I certainly felt that part of Riot Baby was about driving home how many riots and times this issue has crept to the surface; and then been beaten down again with no change. I hope that this 2020 riot push back doesn’t go away until true progress can be made.

No one story or book will change everything; but like The Hate U Give, I think Riot Baby is a wonderful contribution to stating the issues in a way to give a different perspective. It’s very important we continue this conversation and change the delivery to get to more people. I recommend reading this, even if you feel a bit lost like I did, just so you can experience a perspective you’ve likely never seen/heard before. Thank you to Onyebuchi for providing this unique and moving story.

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.
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This was a short book that accomplished so much in so few pages.  It tackles big themes, such as racism, and it does it well.
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Tochi Onyebuchi’s Riot Baby (, 2020) tells the story of two siblings—Ella, who is gifted with powers of precognition and telekinesis, and her younger brother Kevin, whose exuberant resistance to systemic racism earns him a one-way ticket to jail.

Onyebuchi’s first novel for adults is as much a tale of the siblings’ bond as it is a portrait of white supremacy, police brutality, and the anger of Black Americans at centuries of injustice.

The book’s publication just months before the murder of George Floyd and the Covid-19 pandemic might seem prescient, yet the novel could have been written at any point in the last several decades (or centuries) and still felt timely.

Kev is born during the riots in Los Angeles that followed the acquittal of the police officers who brutally beat Rodney King. A few years later, the police killing of Sean Bell leads Ella to run away from home, afraid that her anger, harnessed to the supernatural powers she can’t yet control, might cause her to hurt those she loves.

“She’s changed as a result of having seen [Sean Bell’s murder] in a way that I think a lot of people were changed when they saw footage of Laquan McDonald’s death or Philando Castile’s, these immensely traumatic visual experiences,” Onyebuchi tells me on the latest episode of New Books in Science Fiction.

Onyebuchi rejects the notion that anger must be productive. “When I started writing Riot Baby, I was very angry, and I feel like one of the things that happens during these periods of American unrest, particularly along a racialized vector, is this idea of productivity, that the anger has to be productive,” he says.

“And there was a part of me, a very large part of me, that was essentially ‘Screw that. I’m not here for respectability politics.’ Black people have been playing the respectability politics game since time immemorial. And in the history of modern America, what has it gotten us? And that was a lot of what powered the omnipresence of anger in the book, this idea that it doesn’t have to be productive.”
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I enjoyed reading several aspects of this book! The pacing was wonderful, characters were well drawn, and the reading experience on the whole was delightful.
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A tour-de-force from a rising star in the fiction scene and a powerful voice we need during these times.
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Damn. Just. Damn this was good. Is good. Should be required reading.

As a white woman, I only know so much. I know so little.

I'll never understand what it means to be black. Or what it means to be terrorized by a broken system. But this helps me see a slice of it.

How I wish Ella and Kev were real. Burn it all down to build something new.
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This book was small but mighty gut punch. Since it is so short I don't want to give anything away more than the synopsis does, but let's just say that Onyebunchi delivers with this book.
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Riot Baby is a stunningly brutal, yet powerful adult debut from Onyebuchi. 
It is unflinching in its prose and scorching in its delivery.
You will not be unmoved.
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It starts off slow and kind of dense, but once the action begins, it's hard to resist the story as it drives forward. It reads as a true epic, one that makes you feel the world really has been reshaped as you read it. Would recommend.
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WOW!  After reading this book, I've waited a couple of days and read the other readers reviews before I tried to write my review.  One thing you will pick up from every review is that this book affected every reader.  No one read the book and walked away without a definite opinion on it's contents and how they felt it should have ended.  So, that being said, here I go,

The book synopsis gives a good overview of the story arc, but says nothing about the skillful writing of Tochi Onyebuchi that tells the story of inter racial lives and how reactions say so much about the character of a person, neighborhood and ultimately the systems that bind us all together.  The central characters are a brother and sister, each trying to take care of the other with the limited options available to them.  But the sister has within her means to punish at will and make huge changes through violence.  Her brother is often the victim of the prevailing culture but understands that his sister's power, while it could be effective, may also not make changes for the good.  His choices show more compassion and morality than his surrounding neighbors but do not save him when he's sent to prison.  His voice is the driving force in the book, one that definitely makes an impression on everyone who reads this book.
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This book was ok. It moved pretty quickly. I enjoyed being with these characters from childhood to adulthood. It's interesting to see them change because of their personal choices and societal expectations. There is a lot of tension which makes this read a quick one.

However, the fantasy and sci-fi elements feel underdeveloped. Ella seems overpowered (OP) from the beginning. Her abilities are godlike, so why doesn't she use them to save people on a molecular level? Why doesn't she influence high-powered politicians and billionaires to fix institutional powers? Why is she just flitting around the world and watching people die? Her character seems a little too passive and overpowered simultaneously. And I LOVE overpowered characters. My canonical OP favs are Miss America, Jean Grey, Quentin Quire, the blue dude from the Watchmen, the Flash, etc. Then, the Sci-Fi dystopian world felt flat. Perhaps Tochi Onyebuchi's intention is to make a more realistic world, something feasible considering today's technological trends, but I wanted the world to really go there. I wanted an obscene amount of surveillance and for the chips to shock the former inmates and control more aspects of their life. 

Overall, I think I wished this book that was a little wilder and less grounded in reality.
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Be forewarned. This novella is brutally honest about the lives of many blacks. Kev is born during the Rodney King riots in LA, thus the title. The book may be short, but the words are meaningful. Ella, Kev’s older sister, has her Thing, special mind powers that can do things like explode the head of a rat that has come into their apartment. Told from two points of view, Ella’s and Kev’s, its clear that growing up around violence and gangs is terrible. When Mom moves the family to Harlem, Kev is arrested and sent to Rikers. The section on prison is horrifying. I’d call this dystopian fiction, except that in the end there is hope for a better future.
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