The City We Became by 3-time Hugo Award-winning N.K. Jemisin (2020) is like nothing I’ve read before.
A black, gay, young adult, homeless street artist, creates “breathing holes” with spray paint for the City to exhale. He meets Paolo, who keeps talking to him in what he thinks are metaphors, how he needs to “listen” to the City. Strange things happen, including white tendrils or tentacles trying to take over, that it seems only he can see. And then he is New York, the avatar for the whole City.
We then meet Manhattan, a multiracial young graduate student who forgets who he was “before”; Brooklyn, a thirty-something former MC, now lawyer and politician; The Bronx, a Lenape lesbian who fought at Stonewall and now runs the Bronx Art Gallery; Queens, a Tamil graduate student whose superpower is math; and Staten Island, a thirty-year old white woman who still lives with her parents. Paolo, who is really the avatar of Sao Paolo, has been sent to try to help them.
A Woman in White tries to sweet-talk each of them into cooperating with her, shifting shapes and taking over bodies as needed, spreading tendrils wherever she goes, fighting if necessary. Alone, they are vulnerable to her, but together, they can ensure New York City lives and defeats the evil that wants to prevent it from becoming a living, breathing City.
I’ve only been to NYC a couple of times, but I loved this book! I loved learning the distinct personalities and language of each of the boroughs. The metaphor that white supremacy wants to dominate and subvert the multiracial society that is New York was clear and masterfully done.
It was completely weight-neutral, and it’s supposed to be part of a trilogy!