Updated: Sep 19, 2021
Xolo Score 5/5
In The City We Became – great cities are born. And when they are born, the city chooses a human avatar that embodies its soul and battles an interdimensional Evil H.P. Lovecraft would love. When New York City is ready for its birth, it taps its champion, but the fight against the Enemy leaves them vulnerable. So five New Yorkers from each borough (Manhattan, Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island) join the fight. It becomes a race against time to find each borough’s avatar, join forces, and save their home in this love/hate love letter to NYC. N.K. Jemisin writes an exciting modern fantasy adventure filled with profound social commentary on contemporary systemic racism and white supremacy.
*** SPOILERS AHEAD ***
It was so comforting to read a book with so much representation. The majority of the characters in the book are BIPOC and several are openly queer. N.K. Jemisin is intentional about the characters in the book because, avatar or not, they represent NYC. BIPOC characters represent the boroughs, excluding Staten Island, represented by a racist, xenophobic white woman who fears leaving the island. N.K. Jemisin dedicates chapters to each borough’s journey of becoming NYC, and the reader gains in-depth insights into the spectrum of emotions felt throughout their call to action.
N.K. Jemisin does a fantastic job of bringing nuance to the range of characters. Their identities are an integral part of their narratives. But above it all, they are New Yorkers. Take Bronca, the avatar of the Bronx, a 60-year-old queer Lenape woman who makes it clear she’s had her share of fights for survival. But ultimately, they are a grandma-to-be who wants nothing more than to spoil her grandchild and run her art center. It’s the thorough exploration of each character’s nuances that makes The City We Became so wonderful.
These characters symbolize the power of diversity and solidarity in the face of adversity and white supremacy. Naturally, there are times when the boroughs’ personalities clash. And the interdimensional Evil tries to divide the group by pinning their identities against each other. But their connections to NYC are unbreakable. Although they disagree, they ultimately know that their only chance of dismantling this insidious existential threat is to take it on together.
The City We Became serves as a personal call to action. New York City is not alone in facing its existential threat both in the book and in real life. How are we showing up for our cities and the communities that form its heart and soul? How are we acknowledging those often relegated to the margins of a city’s greatness?
Needless to say, we eagerly await the next installment in this Great Cities series.