When should a friend meddle in one’s life? And when should a friend stay silent? In the case of Meredith and Niru, in Uzodinma Iweala’s deeply affecting novel, Speak No Evil, it’s easy to see what Meredith should have done in retrospect. Speak No Evil is told in two parts. We first hear from Niru, who comes out to Meredith after she tried to initiate sex. Then we hear from Meredith, six years after a devastating event changed both of their families forever.
Niru’s very traditional Nigerian father cannot accept a gay son. He, like their pastor and many in their ex-patriot community in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., think of homosexuality as an abomination. Niru might have been able to keep his sexuality a secret from his parents if Meredith hadn’t installed Grindr on his phone. As a privileged white American, Meredith didn’t think of what might happen if Niru’s parents had found his phone. There are frequent moments like that, where a white teenage friend or acquaintance pressures Niru into things. They don’t think anything of staying out, drinking, or having sex because they rarely face any consequences. Niru, being black, could end up paying a much higher price than they ever imagine.
The entire time I read Niru’s half of the book, my heart was in my throat. I dreaded what might happen to a young, gay, black teenager with parents like his, with a society like ours, and friends like Meredith. When Meredith took over narrating duties, it was almost a relief. The hammer had fallen and all that was left was to somehow try to atone. The question for Meredith, is how can she ever atone? She never deliberately tried to hurt Niru. She thought she was helping; she just didn’t realize how different his circumstances were. But on the other hand, she could have listened more to Niru and thought about what it might mean to accidentally out him to his parents. If only—and then things would have turned out completely differently.
Speak No Evil is brief, but it packs a hell of an emotional wallop. This book touches deeply on so many things—coming out, friendship, unintended consequences, racism, parenting—and it does it all deftly and powerfully while still telling an engaging story about two friends who accidentally destroy one another.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss, for review consideration. It will be released 6 March 2018.
Notes for Bibliotherapeutic Use: Recommend to impulsive readers who need to slow down and think through their actions.