The Premise: an anthology of short stories and poems by BAME authors, all focused on the idea of change.
Thoughts: if there’s one thing in life I am almost guaranteed to enjoy, it’s a collection of short stories by a range of authors, all writing on a loosely linked topic. This one was no exception. There are some truly brilliant stories here; inevitably, not all of them will resonate with every reader, and there were a couple which didn’t grab me, but on the whole this is an excellent collection.
Catherine Johnson’s fictionalised account of William Darby, a 19th century circus performer better known as Young Darby, Negro Rope Dancer and Equestrian, is the kind of story of which I’d happily read a few more hundred pages; it’s a beautifully realised piece of historical fiction. Tanya Byrne’s Hackney Moon is just as beautiful, with a hauntingly detached narrator seemingly able to intervene in the life of Esther, a gay, black teenage girl leaving behind old relationships for better ones.
I’m already a fan of Nikesh Shukla, having followed his work in putting together The Good Immigrant, and I’ve read one of his novels too (Coconut Unlimited – it’s excellent, by the way); knowing he had a story in this collection was one of the reasons I was so keen to read it, and We Who? is a superb account of a friendship coming under pressure from prejudice and one teen’s internalising of his father’s anti-immigration views. The stories here may be short, but their impact is long-lasting, and Shukla’s is an excellent example of a narrative which stays in the reader’s mind long after reading.
Patrice Lawrence takes a dystopian view in The Clean Sweep, in which young offenders are transported to a secure location for the public to vote on their fates, reality TV-style. It’s a shift in tone from the previous stories, and one which invigorates and adds variety of genre. Magical realism also features in Phoebe Roy’s Iridescent Adolescent: the story of a girl who begins sprouting feathers. It’s a quite gorgeous addition to the anthology.
I also loved Mary Bello’s Dear Asha, about a teenage girl travelling to Nigeria to bury her mother. The depiction of Nigeria is so vibrant that the reader is swept away just like Asha, and it’s a really effective portrayal of cultural difference as well as human similarity.
In Conclusion: there’s so much to enjoy and admire in A Change Is Gonna Come. The book introduces new BAME talent as well as offering short stories by more established novelists, with Ayisha Malik and Irfan Master both featuring in addition to those I’ve mentioned. This is an excellent collection of topical, emotive, eye-opening fiction; it’s educational without being didactic, and it’s exactly the kind of writing that will help to create a better and more more open-minded world.