Review: “R/evolution,” Tenea D. Johnson

Pros: Really makes you think
Cons: Quincy
Rating: 4 out of 5

Tenea D. Johnson’s R/evolution: A Mosaic Novel (Book One) is something of a cross between a novel and a set of interconnected short stories (I’ve even read one of the “chapters” as a standalone short story in another anthology). Ezekiel Carter is the character who ties most of these stories together. We first meet him as a 12-year-old learning how his family name came to be when his ancestors were slaves. In the next story he’s 15 and starting college early. Now we hear about people having physical “adaptations” (cranial boosters, ports for electronics, etc.), and we get a glimpse of the “Rep War,” an ongoing collection of protests and events surrounding the demand for reparations for slavery. In “The Taken,” we don’t see Ezekiel at all. Kristen Burke, a senator’s daughter, is kidnapped (along with other senators’ children) and forced to endure a mock-up of the slaves’ journey by ship to the new world. In the next story, a man boasts about hunting down “naturalized illegals”, and a Black man flees a mob. Gradually we see Ezekiel turn to a career of genetic manipulation. He and his friend Addie work on offering “genetic reparations.” Some people–including those he’s trying to help–feel that he’s playing God and blaspheming. But he continues to offer pre-programmed good health to those who can’t afford genetic adaptations otherwise.

This book takes a deep, painful look at racial and class divides. Rich people can afford to get whatever adaptations they want for their children, widening the gap still more than it was before (class has long dictated health, as it takes money to get good medical care). The middle class disappears. Racial tensions run even higher, resulting in violence and death. A version of the Klan has made a comeback. While it’s clear that the New Dawn (a pro-reparations group) went too far in kidnapping Kristen Burke and the others–they’ve sentenced them to a life of trauma and pain and triggered terrible reprisals–the story itself really opened my eyes. The New Dawn carefully point out all the ways in which the treatment Kristen and the others received was much better than that the slaves received, and that more than anything else conveyed how horribly the slaves were treated.

The one part of this book that felt weird to me was Quincy’s. Quincy is Ezekiel’s step-son, and he is clearly a sociopath. He takes the story on a weird tangent later on where he tries to make himself into a “prophet” of a religion based on “Carter’s Kids” (the children who received Ezekiel’s genetic reparations). It’s bizarre, and seems to lose the focus on the wider themes of the book.

It was interesting to see Ezekiel change from focusing just on race to focusing on class as well–offering his genetic adaptations for superior health to people who couldn’t afford to get adaptations themselves. It’s clear that his work is going to change the world, but I’d like to have seen more of that effect, rather than having it just hinted at in the end.

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