Wednesday 18 August 2021


Blackout by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk and Nicola Yoon (HarperCollins) PB RRP $19.99 ISBN 9780755503063

Reviewed by Nikki M Heath 

How will a bunch of diverse teenagers cope with a blackout plunging New York City into darkness? As trains and traffic grind to a halt, phone batteries die and residents panic, relationships are tested, broken and forged.

In one story, ex-boyfriend and girlfriend are forced to tackle the long walk home together; in another, a new relationship blossoms between two boys after escaping from a non-functioning subway carriage. There’s a meet-cute between two girls at a retirement home, and sparks flying on a failed ride-share trip. One girl is in the midst of a bus tour of darkened New York when she realises she’s better off without either of the boys who have been chasing her.

Bringing together six authors, this is a collection of short stories, vignettes of the lives of a loosely interconnected group of teens aged from early senior schoolers to recent graduates. There are plenty of ‘Easter eggs’ for the attentive reader to discover how all the characters interrelate, adding layers of depth to their stories.

One longer story alternates in chapters with one-off short stories creating a thread of continuity which keeps the pages turning. Themes tick all the modern YA boxes, ranging from identity and privilege to dreams and relationships. The title has a double meaning, flagging the book’s purpose of telling black stories, but several stories also have a notable focus on sexuality. The book also touches on geographic and socio-economic diversity.

Some of the dialogue reads like a foreign language to an adult reader - hopefully an Australian teen would be familiar with the slang, but there is a chance for confusion if it is unique to a black NYC cohort. There are also some sections that get bogged down in exposition, authors perhaps struggling with the amount of backstory required in the limited space. This is a book firmly rooted in its setting, which may make the stories more difficult to relate to for some Australian readers.

That said, many of the themes that teenagers struggle with are universal, and are treated with humour, grace, and insight.  High school kids who enjoy reading about relationships will undoubtedly enjoy this book, and it will be valuable for kids identifying with racial and sexual minorities to see themselves on its pages.

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