“New York City, August 1998. On a muggy summer day, five women wake up to discover purple scab-like lesions on their faces—a rash that pulses, oozes, and spreads in spiral patterns. City clinic doctors dismiss the women’s fears as common dermatitis, a regular skin rash. But as more women show up with the symptoms, one clear correlation emerges: an all-natural, first-of-its-kind hair relaxer called Reenu-You.
As the outbreak spreads, and cases of new rashes pop up in black and latino communities throughout New York, panic and anger also grows. When the malady begins to kill, medical providers and the corporation behind the so-called hair tonic face charges of conspiracy and coercion from outraged minority communities and leaders across the country.” (GR)
I recently read Michele Tracy Berger’s science-fiction novella Reenu-You and it was excellent! So here are 5 reasons to read the story, in no particular order:
It’s a quietly creepy and atmospheric (post-) apocalyptic SFF story. Between the muggy weather and the 90s lack of smartphones, Berger creates an outside/inside and us/them divide that feels in turn safe or claustrophobic.
The characters are all women of color, mostly Black women, and all differ in background, age and class. And the main character Kat is a biracial Black ski enthusiast and instructor, how cool is that!
The story is very much about the politics of Black hair. It targets Black women as consumers, promising an all-natural relaxed hair. The company comes up with the name, asserting they need to use “ebonics,” something simple for the customers to understand and buy the product. Also, the company that betrays their trust used to be Black owned and is now under white management. It’s the women who figure out they’ve all been using this product that must have caused the horrible rash, the authorities are useless.
A central aspect of Reenu-You is that of sisterhood and community. With the breakout of the virus happening mostly in Black and LatinX neighborhoods, the officials’ racism first fails the women and also of course fails to keep the virus contained. And so the women, despite their differences, connect with and care for each other.
It’s a short book, a novella, and perfect to read on a Sunday afternoon. I took my time, choosing to savor the story, but it would also be a perfect choice for the next readathon!
What do you think? Is this something for your tbr?
Also, does this review format work for you?