I don’t remember when or how, but I was introduced to a snippet of Yabo many months ago through the characters Ruby, Ramses, and Jules. Yabo was released in 2014, and finally, in 2017, I can remove it from my TBR list with much delight. If Yabo has been lingering on your (Black/lesbian/queer) TBR list too, move it to the top. Make it a priority.
This book ain’t for the faint of heart. You must read with care and memory, and it will satiate those who desire a literary feast. Alexis De Veaux has formed a beautiful tapestry of fiction and poetry, and poetry is laced throughout the short stories. And although the stories are individually titled, each story is part of series, a lyrical series that unfolds without regard to sequence. The nonlinear narratives undergird one of the themes: time. In Yabo, time has no boundaries. Present, past, and future are the same, and this “principle” is mirrored in the expressions of West African folklore, spirituality, symbols, and history throughout the book.
Though groups of characters exist in different centuries and forms and sexualities, they all relate in complex, surprising, and satisfying ways. Parts of the stories are steeped in the rural South; other parts transpire in the bustling North. Regardless of location, the stories are woven in expected ways, through realms of life and death and unseen worlds, through spirit and flesh, and pain and desire. I especially liked “Between Here and Nowhere.” The story is less than two pages, but knowing and reverent and told through the mouths of an eagle and leopard.
Above, I mentioned Jules. I was particularly drawn to Jules’ character, life, and relationship with Zen. Jules is a resilient person with strengths and talents as deep as Jules’ weaknesses. Jules is intersex, and from day one, Ruby and Ramses (Jules’ parents), were careful not to “correct” Jules’ genitalia or categorize Jules as male or female. Instead, Jules lingers in the spaces of both neither— bn— an acronym coined by Jules’ parents; a pronoun in which Jules identifies. I kept waiting for the moment that De Veaux would have to use a conventional pronoun to aid in the storytelling of Jules characterization and experiences. But, it never happened. Instead, the reader must read along the lines of Jules’ identity (literally and figuratively), which encourages readers to set aside the limitations of labels— which reminded me to avoid dichotomous pronouns here.
My only issue with Yabo is also a bit of a reader pet peeve. I prefer traditional styling with paragraphs and dialogue. Indentations and quotation marks are my friends. When they’re missing, the reading takes more effort, like I’m fighting the text by second-guessing myself and re-reading a line to determine whether it was exposition or dialogue to begin with.
That aside, I plan on reading Yabo again within the next year. I heart the library, so I borrowed the copy that I read. However, a personal copy will be added to my bookshelf very soon, and it will be decorated with highlighted passages.
I highly recommended Yabo because it is the type of book you not only read, but also see and experience— and the kind of book that incites writer’s envy.
Reviewed by: Lauren Cherelle
Lauren Cherelle uses her time and talents to traverse imaginary and professional worlds. She recently penned her sophomore novel, The Dawn of Nia (Resolute Publishing, 2016). Outside of reading and writing, she enjoys new adventures with her partner of thirteen years. You can find Lauren online at Twitter, www.lcherelle.com, and Goodreads.