The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin

Description

The City We Became takes place in New York City, in a version of the world in which great cities become sentient through human avatars.” (from Wikipedia)

The City We Became cover art

Review

I found it very refreshing to read a book with lots of heroes where none of them are straight white dudes. There’s a lot of queer and POC representation in the cast of characters, but at a certain point it does feel like the author is beating you over the head with it, like “LOOK HOW DIVERSE.”

There was lots of funny NYC stuff that I wonder how it would land with people who haven’t lived here. I thought Jemisin handled the Staten Island part super well, making a character that I was simultaneously disgusted with but felt for. That said, another person in my book club HATED the Staten Island character and thought she was an unfair stereotype. It may be a stereotype, but most people I know who live in NYC think most people who live in Staten Island are like that so at least there’s that?

The characterization of the woman in white and the way she’s hyperactive and friendly in addition to genocidal was very engaging. My friend and I agree that if there’s a film adaptation of this, the only actor that makes sense for the woman in white is Tilda Swinton.

I don’t know how this can be a trilogy. How do you get character growth out of characters that both are and are not just representations of where they live? No one really changed in the course of the book except for a very basic ‘I am not willing / now I am willing to die to save others.’ There weren’t any characters that I wanted to know more about beyond the events of the book because none of them really wanted anything (except for Manhattan wanting to get with New York). That lack of character growth, combined with the first point above about kind of being hit over the head with the characterization, made the story feel flat, uncomplicated, and unsubtle. If there’s a book two I will just read the summary on Wikipedia.

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