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The Booker Prize 2022 #12: Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley

Kiara is seventeen and desperately trying to pay the rent that has been increased yet again. After her father’s death and with her mother in a halfway house she is all alone in dealing with the landlord and her older brother’s delusions. Marcus wants to make it big as a rapper and spends all his time in a friend’s studio, rather than finding a job to provide for his underage sister. The teenager cares not only for her own survival but feels responsible for a nine-year-old neighbour, mostly abandoned by his mother and the only ray of sunshine in Kiara’s life. One night Kiara drunkenly stumbles into a misunderstanding that opens a new, but dark, world to her and she realises there is a place for her to make money after all: the streets. Finally, she makes enough to start paying of her rent debt when one night two police officers threaten her with arrest but offer to let her go if they can have her number and pass it around to other officers. Soon Kiara finds herself at the centre of a scandal that could ruin what remains of her family. Based on a true story Nightcrawling portrays the horrifying reality of institutional violence and abuse of society's most vulnerable.

Leila Mottley was only 17 when she started writing this devastating debut novel. At a young age she doesn't shy away from showing how brutal can be. This is a difficult read not only for his subject matter but also at times because of the prose. Some scenes are slow, metaphors are used and overused. It might be the author’s age but much of this novel felt overwritten and the ending was disappointingly rushed. But amidst passages that just try to be too deep, are moments of true brilliance. You can feel the empathy with which the characters were created, flaws and all. When Mottely isn't trying to wrap her truths in too many decorations, her observations are honest and lead her to searing indictments. She appears to have a deep understanding of power and psychology and even though this work might not be perfect it certainly marks the beginning of a great writer.

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