Cover Image: Sorrowland

Sorrowland

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Member Reviews

4+ stars

Wow. This book. For a book that is not that long, it sure does contain multitudes. Anyone worried about the dark nature of this novel, should read beyond the first part. One thing that I appreciate about Rivers' writing of difficult/dark themes is that they don't dwell on the horrific. The ending is almost hopeful. This is a book that will stay with me for a while.

As usual, Rivers' does not strive to make us happy or comfortable. As such, their books are hard, and this one is also just weird (the premise, anyway) and for quite a bit it stays weird, but at a certain point things start to make sense, and the payoff is worth it. This is also a very pointed commentary on quite a few issues, the most prominent being the treatment that Black (and indigenous) Americans have been subjected to by the US government and white people in general(ization). No holds barred. And it's deserved. Where I wish it weren't deserved is their opinion that white people are pretty much universally evil. I try not to be, at least, so some things in this book made me feel extremely uncomfortable and a little indignant, but you know? I'm sure I've been guilty of benefitting from my privilege. And this book is valuable for recognizing how we (white people) come across and are very often seen. Ultimately, it makes me very sad and ashamed.  

We had a really great discussion about this book at the SFFBC Virtual Book Club yesterday and I'm so grateful for everyone's insights and comments. It made me appreciate this book even more (I almost wrote "love", but that's not the right word!).

Characters 7/10
Atmosphere 9/10
Writing Style 10/10
Setup 7/10
Plot 8/10
Intrigue 9/10
Logic 8/10
Enjoyment 8/10

Thanks to Netgalley and Rivers Solomon for giving me this book to review.
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Sorrowland was a book that kept coming to my attention last year, consistently featured on lists by people whose taste I trust, always praised. With all that attention I shied away from it slightly, wanting to read it but needing the space to form my own opinion. Now that the time have come I can wholeheartedly join the chorus of people who adore Solomon's novel. Thanks to Farrar, Straux & Giroux; Random House; and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

What are monsters? The word 'monster' comes from the Latin monstrum, which means 'portent, omen, sign'. (Think demonstrate.) A monster, then, is a message or a person that holds information, that reveals, that holds up a mirror and forces us the acknowledge something. Angels are monsters, in that sense, and so is the protagonist in Rivers Solomon's novel. Vern is, perhaps, not entirely human. Or maybe she is, but the world around her is no longer entirely human. In her struggle to find out what is happening to her, she has to face a world in which many things aren't as they should be. Sorrowland is deeply Gothic, yet also has a sense of the mythic and the epic in how Vern approaches life. While she has plenty going against her, from her albinism to her changing body, she is constantly in awe of the vastness of life, of the vastness of nature, and the reader can't help but join her on her journey with the same sense of awe.

Vern is on the run and about to give birth. Sorrowland starts with the birth of her children and only grows in intensity from there. Haunted by her imagination and her history, Vern is changing in a way she doesn't understand. Raised on a cult-like compound, the world is full of mysteries for her, but of one thing she is sure: she is strong, perhaps stronger than she should be. With her children, she begins a journey towards truth and understanding, hoping to find a place where she can just be the way she is. Sorrowland is full of Gothic tension, moments of body horror, and scenes of utter tenderness and passion. It is hard to truly summarise this novel, mainly because going into it blind truly does make for the best experience. Each step of the journey is a revelation. Vern is supported by a cast of fascinating characters, some of who join her on her journey, others who we only see for a brief moment. You will adore her children, in their wildness, you will share Vern's mistrust and fall in love alongside her. Vern is a very young character, hardly an adult at the end of the novel, but there is a sagacity to her that, due to her experiences, doesn't feel misplaced. She is full of life, brash, occasionally mean, often desperate, but as her body changes, she only becomes more human.

The writing of Sorrowland is stunning. Vern's speech feels both archaic and blunt, always direct yet for of mystery. Similarly, Solomon has a real knack for describing nature and dissecting human behaviour. At the heart of Sorrowland is a desire to remember, to not forget the sufferings and crimes of the past. To confront human behaviour, at its best and worst, straight on and, at the very least, acknowledge it.  Solomon tries to do a lot in Sorrowland. There are references to Giovanni's Room, strong themes of Afrofuturism, Gothic chases through the woods, and strong political commentary throughout. What weaves it together and makes it all fit is Solomon's characters. While not everything about Sorrowland is streamlined, every moment adds a layer of understanding, of acceptance, of knowledge. Gender and sexuality also appear throughout Sorrowland, without every being a capital-T theme, if that makes sense. People love who they love, they are what they are, and that is how it should be. The ease with which this happens was beautifully done and also shows that protest and activism happens on every level. I can't wait to read more by Solomon!

Sorrowland is a monster of a book, full of revelation, fear, and awe. While not the easiest of reads, it is a novel I would highly recommend. Let it sweep you away!
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This is a real genre-bender of a novel— speculative science fiction, horror and gothic elements are all right here. Vern, a woman hunter and alone in the woods, gives birth to twins and keeps them away from the outside world. But when her body begins to change into something strong, something abnormal, she must look back to the past and what she fled. An explosive exploration of racism, misogyny and marginalisation, I can't recommend it highly enough.
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In the past, I haven't reviewed books that I haven't read. But, I have changed my mind.  Firstly,  I think that the fact that I couldn't finish a book is a valid criticism, and this is where we give feedback to the publisher. Secondly, I need to get my score up. I will not post this anywhere else but here. My rating will be based on what other people would think about this work.

I read about 40% of this book.  In the past, I would have loved this book.  I would have loved its atmospheric nature; its fast pace, and dialogue heavy nature. I still love its queerness. But, my reading tastes have changed, and I no longer like plot heavy, dialogue driven, works.  I prefer a less plotted, more experimental style of writing. If you are like my earlier self and you like a more conventional narrative style, then you will love this book.
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This one was a DNF for me. Nothing wrong with it really - I made it about 30% through and realised it just want for me.
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This fucking book, man. I read this quite a while back, actually, but no matter how many times I tried to write a review for it, it just seemed like I couldn’t do it justice. Trying to convey how it made me feel would honestly require me to be a much better writer than I currently am.

Even just explaining what this book is about seems an impossible task. Vern is a Black albino teenager born and raised in a cult and made to marry their leader. While pregnant, she flees the compound to give birth and raise her two children in the woods. The family is then hunted by a mysterious enemy, all while Vern undergoes drastic bodily changes, and becomes subject to increasingly vivid visions.

Sorrowland touches on a lot of things. It comes with pretty much every content warning that it is possible to have, so please don’t enter into it lightly. This feels like a book trying to work through a lot of complex, messy feelings. But I have to admit that I love how it doesn’t try to “solve” any of the issues that it explores. It doesn’t gloss over them, but instead tries to sort through them.

The celebration of culture, but the wariness of having that weaponised against you. The love and joy of being a parent, but wanting to be your own person. Recognising that an experience was shit, but making the most of the strength it gives you. Showing empathy for the struggles of others, but not forgiveness for the shit they do to you.

“Enjoyed” isn’t the word, here, as Sorrowland does go to some pretty dark places. But I will never regret, and will always appreciate having read it. It is one of my top books of the year so far. There are some aspects that weren’t for me (I’m not much of a smut reader, so supernatural threesomes are a bit outside my wheelhouse), but many that really struck a chord with me.

I particularly loved that Vern isn’t necessarily the nicest or most “likeable” of characters, and I loved how the book engages with that. There’s an element of… “Okay I came from a really shitty place, but I have to recognise that I have, to some degree, internalised some of that shittiness, and I need to work on that.” That’s the kind of complex, messy, real shit that lots of books don’t dare to tackle. And that’s why I hold Sorrowland in such high regard.
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“Going against tended to end more rightly, more justly, than going with. People were wrong. Rules, most of the time, favored not what was right, but what was convenient or preferable to those in charge.” 

Sorrowland tells the story of Vern as she flees from a cult and its leader to create a new life with her children. But Cainland doesn't let her go easily. She is hunted and haunted by the cult, so eventually decides to leave the woods and go to civilisation to find her friend, Lucy. 

“How come white folks were always telling Black people to get over slavery because it was 150 or so years ago but they couldn’t get over their Christ who died 1,830 years before that?” 

Sorrowland is a deeply ambitious and complex story of misogyny, racism, sexuality and power. While I loved it conceptually, I found the execution to not be quite what I was looking for. This included some sci-fi elements that I wasn't expecting, and the overall tone was just a little off. I found myself bogged down by all the imagery and symbolism, but couldn't bring myself to try and sort through all of it because I wasn't invested enough. 

“She was a girl made of aches and she flung her body at the world in the hopes that something, anything, might soothe the tendernesses.” 

If you are a fan of weird, experimental and lightly sci-fi books- you will probably love this! It was just a little too elusive and strange for my personal tastes. I have a feeling that this would be a really good book to buddy read or discuss with a book club. Unfortunately, I didn't have anyone to discuss it with so I don't think I had the best experience I could have. 

Overall, most of my critisisms were by no fault of the book itself, but me. I simply think I wasn't the target audience. But if you are, I can completely see how you would love this book. 

★★☆☆☆.5 stars

Thank you to Random House UK for this ARC

Release Date: 6 May 2021
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As a fan of Rivers Solomon's first novel, I really expected to love this. I liked it enough, but that's about it; I found it too intangible to grasp onto, never quite sure what was happening, and not in an ethereal and intriguing way, just an unsatisfying one. I didn't feel connected to Vern or her story, and it felt like I was skimming over the story, not really experiencing it. Solomon's use of language is as beautiful as ever, but I'd struggle to recount the plot if asked. Not a hit for me.
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Beautiful writing. I was hooked! 
A perfect read for the summer holidays. 

Thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for letting me access an advance copy of this book in exchange for my feedback.
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“In the woods, it had been so easy to assert herself fearlessly, but it was impossible to be a free woman among people. Society demanded a certain level of lying about oneself”.- Sorrowland by Rivers Soloman.
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Sorrowland is told from the perspective of Vern( an albino black teenager) who at 15 and pregnant, escapes from Cainland- a dangerous cult masquerading as a safe haven for black people. From there we follow Vern over the years, as she hides away in woods with her twins but when a sickness infecting her body- causing haunting by the dead, and deforming her bones- gets progressively worse, she decides to take her children and get help. But Vern’s strange sickness links to the horrifying Cainland, and the people behind it all...are not done with her yet! 
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Sorrowland is a mix of SFF and horror that pulls you in from the first page. Vern is one of the STRONGEST characters I have ever read about, and I devoured this book. Rivers Solomon wrote so exquisitely; it was as if  you could feel the hauntings and terror each time Vern experienced them. You could further feel the bonds between Vern and her children, and again with two other major side characters. 
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 While it does so in a fictional setting and metaphors, Sorrowland does not shy away from highlighting the horrors Black people and Black women endure at the hands of the American government. Which is extremely important! Sorrowland further explores different forms of abuse-whether mentally, physically, parental or domestic-, sexuality (Vern is attracted to women), gender and love. 
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Sometimes you read a book and you know you’ll NEVER forget it and Sorrowland was that book for me. It had scenes that were horrifying, soft, scary, and truly unforgettable. I highly recommend this book.
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I so wanted to enjoy this, and I really do admire what Rivers Solomon has crafted here, but this kind of book tends to be very hit-and-miss for me, and in this case I sadly didn't love it.

I did finish the novel, but it was difficult at times to get through. I did think it was beautifully written and I think Rivers Solomon is definitely an author I hope to read more from, but Sorrowland got 3 stars from me in the end.
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This is an extraordinary book that defies expectations.

Vern lived and grew up in Cainland, in the deep South of America, where a community of black people believe their God, the God of Cain, will keep them from harm, keep them honest and safe from the white devils. 

Vern is albino and as such has always been different. Cainland’s leader takes a fancy to her, partly because she brims with questions and defiance and thinks marriage to him, despite her young age, will keep her tame. But Vern will not be contained. When she runs from the compound she is heavily pregnant.

We think we know this story. It holds familiar echoes. But what teenage mother could give birth to twins, alone in a forest, strap them to her chest and run and swing through trees to escape a pursuer with a gun and wolves? What teenage mother could survive in a self-made shelter, foraging for food, making her own clothes, teaching her twins, alone in the forest? This is no ordinary young woman and Cainland is much more than it seems. How could such a community survive in the American South without incident? Who really has the power in Cainland? Why can no one seem to run away, until now…

Part speculative fiction, part painful contemporary realism, Sorrowland doesn’t fit the usual moulds but takes the reader on a journey for freedom that explores race, sexuality and the boundaries of the human mind and body as something rooted in the natural world. At times crazy, but always an exciting ride, this is a genre busting novel with a powerfully raw emotional heart that beats loudly in the reader’s ears. You’ll know if this sounds like your kind of thing.
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This book is very intense and triggering.
There is a lot going on. Definitely check the triggers before going in, there's so much that could upset so many. It's a tough read, definitely not for the faint-hearted.

Unfortunately, this really wasn't for me.
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Wow. It's not often you get the opportunity to read something so original. Sorrowland follows Vern, a young. pregnant teenager who has fled to the woods to escape her husband and the cult he leads. Vern is young, black, intersex, queer and albino, fiercely independent and virtually unstoppable. I loved her from first page to last. Vern brings up her offspring, fearing capture by the long arms of Cainland and struggling with terrifying bodily changes that don't make sense. Sorrowland is packed full of passion and rage and horror as Solomon examines the force of an prejudiced world on mariginalised bodies: POC, LGBTQ+, women and indigenous peoples. It's sci-fi and horror and thriller, filled to the brim with huge imagery and unapologetic power. Funny, sexy, horrifying and beautifully written.
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This was an ambitious, dark and harrowing read. Oppression, subjugation, abuse  of Africa’s Americans and the imposition of religion and ‘norms’. This is a compelling story of one family’s struggle to survive a horrifying world. This was not a comfortable or even entertaining read but it certainly was an important one, in a unique and distinctive voice. Many thanks to Netgalley for an arc of this book.
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Sorrowland is a dark, haunting read that will keep you thinking until the very last page. It follows Vern, a young woman who was brought up in a religious compound, secluded deep in the woods. Her life had been dictated her whole life, until one day she gathers the strength as she is pregnant and flees for a better life. Away from the cult, in the attempts of creating a new life for herself and her children. However, something inside Vern is changing her physical body and she starts to see the dead. As time goes on, Vern discovers what truly happened to her at the compound and the historical implications it has had on her community over time.

This book really focuses on the historical implications of racism in America. How dehumanisation, medical experimentation and genocide were and still are issues this world faces today. 
Sorrowland is a truly fascinating story, that is so unique you’ll be amazed by it.  

I really enjoy books that genre blend and Sorrowland does it perfectly. It is gothic literature at its finest. 

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a darker read. Especially gothic literature and to those of you that love reading diverse reads.
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I don't always enjoy novels with magical elements but this one was well-crafted and very insightful on the human spirit. Probably not one that I would come back to, but many people will love this novel.
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I'm a reader who tends to stay in my comfort zone quite a lot, but I'll be the first to admit that stepping out of it once in a while is so worthwile. Sorrowland is a combination of a lot of elements I don't typically enjoy, but it was such a valuable reading experience. I thought it might take me a while to read this, but I could absolutely not put it down. I think that's largely because I tend to expect a book of this genre to be quite heavy, and parts of it definitely were, but this also felt like a really hopeful book, and there's a lot of love between Vern and her children.
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I read The Deep by Rivers Solomon last year and it was such a beautiful and haunting read that I was excited to try more from this author. The story follows Vern, a young woman fleeing the remote religious compound she has lived in all her life. She gives birth to two babies and tries to raise them without the influence of the compound or the outside world. As Vern and her babies fight for survival she soon learns something is wrong with her body. Not only is she experiencing hauntings, but her body is changing, making her more powerful than she ever thought possible. But the group she fled from will not let her go easily and for Vern to survive she must become more than she ever imagined.

Sorrowland is a dark and moving tale, one that definitely sticks with you long after you’ve finished reading. Vern’s story is a haunting one, that very much shines a light on the history of racism in America. It’s such a unique read, blending Gothic horror with science fiction and fantasy. Sorrowland is completely unlike anything I’ve read before – if you’re looking for a unique and compelling read this is definitely one to pick up.

I really liked Solomon’s writing and I particularly enjoyed the first half of the book. I found the last portion of the book a little muddied, and the ending took a different turn than I was expecting. Despite this Sorrowland is still a completely fascinating read, one that touches on a lot of important topics. It definitely isn’t a light or fun read but it’s absolutely a story worth reading. I was really fascinated by the idea of the hauntings, and this was something I was particularly intrigued by in the story. I was so intrigued to learn if they were real or a product of Vern’s imagination. I won’t say too much about the plot because this is definitely one of those books that’s best to go in blind. Sorrowland is a unique and engaging read, one that I think lots of people will be swept up in. If you’ve read other books by Rivers Solomon I’d definitely check this one out.
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This was such a multi-layered and utterly engrossing book featuring one of the most memorable protagonists I have ever read. We follow Vern, a 15 year old pregnant girl as she escapes from 'Cainland' - a religious cult. Following her flight, she gives birth in the woods and discovers strange changes to her body that she cannot explain. What I loved most about this book was the way the story just kept building layer upon layer in such a stunningly skillful way. So although the opening section with Vern is completely compelling, somehow Rivers Solomon managed to keep introducing new aspects to the story to make it even more fascinating. Dealing unapologetically with the legacy of slavery and the systematic oppression of minorities, the narrative also examines the history of government experimentation and testing, as well as compulsory sterilisation for native women. By no means an easy read, this is an absolute masterpiece of speculative fiction and I cannot wait to see what Rivers Solomon offers up next! Amazing!
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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