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Book Review: Kiese Laymon’s “Long Division” time-defying novel

I can't say I've ever read a novel as multi-layered as Kiese Laymon's 2013 debut novel "Long Division." To even describe the book's premise would take years, yet it's a powerfully hilarious and introspective coming-of-age story for the ages.

"Long Division" is a literary nesting doll for readers, opening in 2013 with the central character City competing in a grammar competition and discovering a novel called "Long Division," with a protagonist also named City living in 1985. City's discovery of the book and the disappearance of classmate Baize Shephard in Melahatchie, Mississippi, unlock the second plot following 1985 City and his journey to prove his love to Shayala by traveling back to 1964 Melahatchie.

Both 2013 City and 1985 City visit their grandmothers in Melahatchie, Mississippi, yet have contrasting coming-of-age stories and questions regarding their time-defying copies of "Long Division," their Black experiences, and the changes within the Black community.

Despite the time travel element, it isn't a sci-fi allegory for race relations; its teenage characters are trying to navigate young love and their Blackness with the time traveling in the distant background of the story powers the novel.

With witty commentary from each character, you almost forget the more outstanding issues woven into the story. Be warned: this isn't a YA coming-of-age story, so don't be surprised by the slang and topics interlaced into "Long Division."

This novel could have been a multi-layered racial relations story for the ages, but at its heart, "Long Division" is a coming-of-age story with some haunting topics thrown in there. From 1985 City and Shayala being haunted by rumors surrounding their grandparents' deaths, running from the Ku Klux Klan in 1964, and in 2013 City constantly being told to be the better African-American boy, "Long Division" doesn't hold back. It seems that each character's haunting never leaves them and follows them into their respective periods. Laymon weaves contemporary and historical issues from each period flawlessly while focusing on teenage protagonists.

Truthfully, "Long Division" was a surprising read–every plot twist and the nesting doll devices can be confusing to keep track of while reading. Still, the layers are revealed with clever and unique ease you don't find very often in literature.

This novel is a many-layered cake of absurdity and hilarity, making it a beast to finish just based on the synopsis. Yet, the key to understanding "Long Division" is not 2013 and 1985 City, but rather Baize's disappearance and the journey to find the enigmatic character through time is the final puzzle piece to this ambitious novel.

Despite its ambition, the novel doesn't give its character arcs the justice they deserve and felt cut off. If the book had a hundred pages more, each character and plot device might have received the room to flourish and seamlessly end the arcs, but that is a wishful dream.

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