Friday, June 27, 2014

#BookReview: Long Division by Kiese Laymon

I’m so in love with this book that I’m not even sure where to start. I first listened to it back in February and couldn’t find the words to review. I gave it another listen last week and, this time, I took notes. Understand that I rarely take notes on books, but I ended up with 10 pages of them. It’s not that the concepts of the book are difficult to understand, it’s that there are so many gems to be found within that I didn’t want to miss any.

The first thing you need to know about Long Division is that it’s a book within a book and the names of the characters within and outside of the book are the same. Time shifts between 2013, 1985 and 1964. The main character is 2013 Citoyen (City) Coldson. He’s not a bad kid, but he has a smart mouth on him. It’s helped him win “Can You Use That Word in a Sentence” contests, but it’s also landed him in hot water with his mama, his principal, his grandmother and most people that come in contact with him. The book opens with City doing verbal battle with his biggest competitor, LaVander Peeler, which lands him in the principal’s office. Frustrated with his ignorance, Principal Reeves makes City take a test, which becomes a pre-cursor to his time traveling. The first time I listened, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the questions, but this time, they hit me hard. Those that stood out most really summed up what Long Division is all about:

“Only a fool would not travel through time and change their past if they could.”

“Past, present, and future exist within you and you change them by changing the way you live your life.”

2013 City notices a book called Long Division in Principal Reeves office, borrows it and discovers 1985 City Coldson. 1985 City is in love with Shalaya Crump, the girl that lives next door to his grandmother in Melahatchie, Mississippi. Shalaya is a bit of a mystery to City. The way she talks, the things she says throw him off, especially, “I could love you if you helped me change the future in a special way…” Loving Shalaya the way he does, 1985 City takes off on a journey with her that takes him back to 1964 where he meets his grandmother and forward to 2013 where he meets Baize Shephard, a girl that’s missing in 2013 City’s world. If the future is to be changed, as Shalaya wants it to, will it be up to 1985 City or 2013 City?

It can be difficult to follow the story at times if you don’t keep track of what year the characters are in. Even if you’re keeping track, it can be hard. Laymon drops quiet hints from start to finish, but you really have to be on the lookout for them. Though both 2013 City and 1985 City can be obnoxious, know it alls, there is a slight distinction in how they talk and their mannerisms. 2013 City is never without his wave brush and has taken over YouTube. 1985 is much more respectful of his grandmother and doesn’t question or talk back the way 2013 City would. Shalaya Crump and Baize Shephard are tied together by an ellipses, or “dot dot dot” as both would say.

Laymon is masterful with capturing the words, dress, etc. of people in each era. It’s rare that I re-read or re-listen to a book. When I was younger, I re-read books because my mother had me on a book budget and if I was already at my limit for the month, I’d go back and re-read a book just because I had to have something to read. It’s been quite a while since I’ve been on her book budget, but I re-listened to Kiese Laymon’s Long Division recently just because I felt like I missed so much on the first listen. To be honest, there are some books that are meant to be read and some that are meant to be listened to. The written book differentiates by using a different font. Long Division is definitely meant to be read, simply because if you stop listening for just a second, you’re sure to miss something important.

Listening time: 7 hours, 41 minutes
Published: June 2013

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