Book Review: Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala

There is nothing wrong with you, I say into the darkness. I slump against the wall and slide to the floor. I say, Meredith, I think—I’m gay. She sides the door back and thrusts her head out from the closet. She has wrapped herself in a blanket and her hair covers her face. She says, what?

Speak No Evil begins with a confession, a shared secret between childhood friends Niru and Meredith. Niru is a Black student of Nigerian decent on track to begin a college education at Harvard and his friend Meredith is a young white girl of privileged background who serves as Niru initial confidant for the reconciliation of his sexual orientation. With the ignorance and innocence of someone in her position, Meredith encourages Niru to explore his newly admitted homosexuality via Tinder and Grindr, a suggestion that causes a ripple effect more profound than either could imagine.

I don’t have to do this, I told myself. I don’t have to sit behind those rain-streaked windows with my fingers inches away from another man’s fingers and the threat of whatever hanging between us. I could still go back. I could still repackage whatever had been let loose by my telling Meredith and go home to an uncomplicated life with my Harvard admission and two proud parents.

As the story progresses we begin to uncover the torment Niru feels as he navigates the tricky waters ahead- new, unexpected physical and social experiences and the sudden discovery of his orientation by his parents, worst of all his conservative Nigerian father. In traditional Christian, Nigerian culture, homosexuality in unacceptable, so Niru’s father’s only perceived course of action is to return to his homeland with his son and seek the help of spiritual leaders.

Your mother and I talked to Reverend here and we are taking you home for some serious spiritual counseling and deliverance. Reverend has already recommended us someone who can clear this abomination from you.

Upon his return to Washington D.C. Niru straddles two worlds- one that encompasses his father’s traditional values and Nigerian culture and the other composed of progressive American society and Niru’s own desires. When a chance meeting with a boy in a sporting goods store leads to something more, Niru is forced to evaluate his identity as a Black teenager, child of immigrant parents and newly, though only partially, out gay man.

This doesn’t feel like a choice. It never did. But now I feel like things are completely beyond my control. His kiss—I crave it. I need it. I think about it. Now when we meet we kiss frequently. We make out. Sometimes I kiss with my eyes open just to make sure this is real. It is real, but always so short.

As the story hurdles to its surprising and heartbreaking conclusion we come to know that it is about more than just one adolescent’s coming-of-age and struggle with sexual orientation. Speak No Evil is about the far-reaching consequences of racial and LGBTQ inequality, privilege, and the struggle of new generations to balance their parent’s cultural expectations in the vague yet restrictive American society.

It’s all my fault, I say softly. If Niru’s father hears me, he gives no sign. His shoulders shake. He clutches the back of his neck. It’s all my fault, I say unsure what to do next, this is all my fault.


A review copy of this title was provided by Harper Books


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