Forest Gate – Peter Akinti (2009, Free Press, New York)
A brutal, ferocious coming-of-age story, Forest Gate opens with two teenagers on a rooftop in violent, gang-ridden London, England. When both jump and only one succeeds in killing himself, it’s up to the survivor, James, and Meina, the sister of the deceased boy Ashvin, to edge through the pain and make sense of their lives. Their journey is made all the more difficult by the events of the past: nineteen-year-old Meina is a refugee from Somalia, orphaned by her parents’ murders and divorced from six husbands, while James is a kid of the streets, born into a drug empire lorded over by his brothers, his mother a crack addict. This gut checking examination of politics, race, and culture explodes from the pages, and although the dark, depressing themes are not for the faint of heart, Forest Gate is worth a read for its powerful social commentary.