N.K. Jemisin is a multiple award-winning, speculative fiction writer. Currently, she resides in Brooklyn, New York and, as evidenced by her novel, The City We Became, she LOVES the “Big Apple”.
Every century or so, a city will “manifest”, it becomes a living thing, an entity of its own. This has happened several times throughout history: Hong Kong, Paris, and São Paulo are all “living” cities. The transition can be fraught with peril and, if it doesn’t go well, the city, and all of its inhabitants may be destroyed. New York is on the brink of becoming more. But when the time comes, eternal forces that oppose the birth of new cities lash out and injure the avatar chosen to see the city through its transition. In response, five additional avatars are selected from the city’s residents. One from each borough: Manhattan, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island. Since none of them was expecting to become the physical incarnation of their borough, they must first adapt to what has, and is, happening to them. They must locate the others and, together, they must find and strengthen New York’s primary avatar. If they are unable to accomplish this, New York, and all of its inhabitants, will be lost.
In The City We Became, N.K. Jemisin has written a love letter to New York City. It’s a mature and informed, knowing love. Jemisin, during the course of the novel, repeatedly points out and highlights the city’s many faults, problems and deficiencies. But, like someone who feels a strong attachment for another person in spite, or possibly because, of the other’s shortcomings, Jemisin embraces the city for what it is and not a tourist’s or PR firm’s shiny and high-gloss representation. The result is a portrait of one of the world’s most dynamic and exciting locations. Jemisin takes the time to describe the cultures and quirks present in each borough, providing a glimpse into not only what makes each one a unique community but how they all work together to make New York the city that it is.
Along with her portrayal of New York, Jemisin has created characters that are every bit as brash, smart, and culturally diverse as the city itself for this adventure. Like NYC, they are also flawed but fascinating. The dialogue between them is sharp and witty, but in a way that is completely credible. The relationships range from brand new to a comfortable familiarity and all are, again, recognizable and believable. Jemisin has done a marvelous and enviable job creating this group of characters.
Readers of Jemisin’s earlier works will want to read this new novel. And, The City We Became may be a wonderful entry point for those unfamiliar with her earlier novels. However, both groups should be warned: reading this novel very well may leave you wanting to take a trip to New York to experience the city for yourselves.