February 4, 2020
Blurb: In this alternately witty and heartbreaking debut novel, Gabriel Bump gives us an unforgettable protagonist, Claude McKay Love. Claude isn’t dangerous or brilliant—he’s an average kid coping with abandonment, violence, riots, failed love, and societal pressures as he steers his way past the signposts of youth: childhood friendships, basketball tryouts, first love, first heartbreak, picking a college, moving away from home.
Claude just wants a place where he can fit. As a young black man born on the South Side of Chicago, he is raised by his civil rights–era grandmother, who tries to shape him into a principled actor for change; yet when riots consume his neighborhood, he hesitates to take sides, unwilling to let race define his life. He decides to escape Chicago for another place, to go to college, to find a new identity, to leave the pressure cooker of his hometown behind. But as he discovers, he cannot; there is no safe haven for a young black man in this time and place called America.
Percolating with fierceness and originality, attuned to the ironies inherent in our twenty-first-century landscape, Everywhere You Don’t Belong marks the arrival of a brilliant young talent.
Debut author Gabriel Bump’s novel Everywhere You Don’t Belong is a coming-of-age novel about Claude McKay Love who lives in Chicago’s South Side. The reader follows Claude through his first memories involving his parents, who leave him with his Grandmother, to his best adolescent friends and their lives until they leave, to a riot that changes him forever, to love and his own departure.
My very first impression of Everywhere You Don’t Belong came from Bump’s writing. The voice he weaves throughout is mesmerizing, hypnotic, drawing the reader, as least this reader, in. The way he has some characters recount memories or philosophy is like poetry with its building repetition and lists, a rhythmic ebb and flow of words. After reading so many recent novels in which well-executed, beautiful prose is an after-thought, if even considered, Everywhere You Don’t Belong is a gift.
Fully realized characters are the lifeblood of this novel. Claude’s grandmother and her friend, Paul, are unforgettable. Paul, a gay man, is constantly searching for love and constantly finding himself heart-broken. His pursuits are both heart-breaking and darkly humorous. His exploits reminded me of a romance-seeking Don Quixote. Claude’s grandmother is a true matriarch, defending her home and family and meting out just punishment as necessary. She is powerful and clear-sighted.
The settings play an almost equally large part. First, the South Side is called violent. It’s where the riot caused by the killing by police of an unarmed black boy occurs. It’s where an army of drug pushers own turf and take up arms during the riot. It’s the place where innocent families are caught between police and the army of drug pushers. It’s the place that Claude wants to escape because he doesn’t feel like he belongs there. University offers an escape and Claude ends up in Missouri, the same place where his parents are presumed to have ended up–separately. But this smaller city in Missouri has its own problems. Just a walk along a trail shows how nature is dying and that there are larger issues all around. And this smaller Missouri city also has white boys who wear “Don’t Tred on Me” T-shirts and tell people with differently colored skin that they are what’s wrong with this country and they want the country back the way it was. (This fiction suddenly doesn’t feel all that fictional.) This small city is just another place where Claude doesn’t belong.
Perhaps out of all of my expectations at the outset what I didn’t expect was to enjoy this novel as much as I did. I read it in a little over an evening and think I should read it again, because there is just so much to it that I’m certain I would appreciate even more on a second reading.
I look forward to reading more of Gabriel Bump’s writing.
I received a copy of the novel from Algonquin Books in exchange for an honest review.
5 out of 5 butterflies