The blurbs call this a Black version of Stephen King’s Carrie, and they’re mostly right. The author set out to write this as an homage, only shifting the tone of the main character’s terror, not the source. Instead of sheltered, abused, religiously traumatized Carrie White, this book focuses on Madison Washington. Maddy has all the same problems as Carrie, but she’s also been forced to pass as white for her entire life by her racist white father, who ritualistically straightens her hair every week with an old school stovetop straightening comb, complete with deliberate ear and neck burns.
One day Maddy’s hair gets wet during P.E. class and the resulting afro reveals her secret to her classmates and the rest of her tiny Georgia town. Cue trauma-induced psychic powers, a brief redemption in the form of the cute (Black) boy next door, and total embarrassment at the hands of (white) mean girl bullies leading to chaos, destruction and lots of very heavy blood.
It’s a good story and a very clever take on the novel that made Stephen King a household name. But it’s not all that scary.
This is partly because it’s set in 2014, not 1974. Something about the time period never really settled for me. Some parts of the book feel much older, others feel very recent, but I think the whole thing would have fit better in the 80s or earlier. (2014 is an oddly specific time to set this, and I never really figured out why that was the year of choice here. If it’s a nod to Ferguson and the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, it’s poorly placed.)
There’s also the fact that a lot of the horror of the book is caused by racism–Maddy’s racist father, racist cops, racist classmates, benevolent racists who think they’re crusading for justice. Jackson does a good job of putting a face to all of them and weirdly enough, it backfires. Even though racism is carried out by individuals, racism isn’t scary because it’s personal. It’s scary because it’s impersonal, systematic, and dehumanizing. Just like Carrie, you feel sorry for Maddy. But unlike Carrie, who got terrible revenge, Maddy lashes out violently and destructively but still can’t touch the system, which is frustrating and sad. Even in her vindication, Maddy is still a victim.
A flat iron and a bottle of good heat protectant to The Weight of Blood.
(Fellow readers! This was an interesting read but not my favorite of the year, so far. If you’re interested in reading it, click the links above or head over to the Equal Opportunity Bookshop for more booklists featuring diverse books for diverse readers. Don’t forget we have an affiliate relationship with Bookshop and any purchases you make here from links you find here result in a commission being paid. Peace, and go read something good! )