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Review: Deacon King Kong by James McBride

Title: Deacon King Kong
Author: James McBride
Year published: 2020
Category: Middle Grade fiction
Pages: 384 pages
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location: (my 2022 Google Reading map)USA (NY)

SummaryIn September 1969, a fumbling, cranky old church deacon known as Sportcoat shuffles into the courtyard of the Cause Houses housing project in south Brooklyn, pulls a .38 from his pocket, and, in front of everybody, shoots the project’s drug dealer at point-blank range.

The reasons for this desperate burst of violence and the consequences that spring from it lie at the heart of Deacon King Kong, James McBride’s funny, moving novel and his first since his National Book Award–winning The Good Lord Bird. In Deacon King Kong, McBride brings to vivid life the people affected by the shooting: the victim, the African-American and Latinx residents who witnessed it, the white neighbors, the local cops assigned to investigate, the members of the Five Ends Baptist Church where Sportcoat was deacon, the neighborhood’s Italian mobsters, and Sportcoat himself.

As the story deepens, it becomes clear that the lives of the characters—caught in the tumultuous swirl of 1960s New York—overlap in unexpected ways. When the truth does emerge, McBride shows us that not all secrets are meant to be hidden, that the best way to grow is to face change without fear, and that the seeds of love lie in hope and compassion.

Bringing to these pages both his masterly storytelling skills and his abiding faith in humanity, James McBride has written a novel every bit as involving as The Good Lord Bird and as emotionally honest as The Color of Water. Told with insight and wit, Deacon King Kong demonstrates that love and faith live in all of us.

Review: I read this book for my girls' book group and wasn't sure about it going in, but I really enjoyed the humor and the look into the character's lives.

This is a book where not a lot really happens until the last third; it is definitely character rather than plot-driven. That usually doesn't work for me, but for some reason it did with this novel. I listened to the audio and I think that helped me to appreciate it as the narrator did a wonderful job with the voices of all the characters. And there are a ton of characters, all of whom have nicknames (Sportcoat, Deacon, Sausage Fingers, Elephant) and they are all colorful and interesting. 

The story centers around a housing project and its church, the relationships among the various characters, the drug deals, the church life, and the King Kong (hooch). I actually liked all the characters and wanted to hear more about them when chapters changed to the story line of someone else. Of course, they all connect in clever ways (the relationships between the Italians and the African Americans was interesting). I liked the setting of the late 1960s as well.

I wondered how the book/story could possibly end given that there didn't seem to be a climax or an obvious culmination, but it all worked out with a satisfying ending. I keep thinking about the characters and feel like their lives and relationships are continuing.

Challenges for which this counts:
  • Popsugar--Anisfield-Wolf Award winner (2021)

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