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Volume I: The Neosoul Starr Vernell, Theresa iUniverse (432 pp.)...

$33.95 hardcover, $23.95 paperback

ISBN: 978-1-4917-6218-9; May 12, 2015


Soulful romance centered on the independent hip-hop scenes in Philadelphia and New York.

This unconventional work of fiction, the first in a planned series, opens with aspiring recording artist STARR walking into a funeral home, steeling herself to confront the death of a man whose life was, in ways not explained, somehow intertwined with her own. The rest of the book details the events that led up to this moment, focusing on the development of STARR’s musical career as well as her romantic relationships. Any of the three men in her life—the narcissistic agent Rofiki, gentlemanly coffee-shop owner Bluesy, and passionate musician BearLove—could be the man in the coffin as well as the father of the child STARR is carrying.

Vernell writes in loose vernacular, reflecting not only her own vocation as an internet DJ, but also the musical influences of her characters. Her narrative is spliced throughout with a playlist of mostly recognizable neo-soul, hip-hop, and “Nu-Jazz” recordings (many available on a corresponding website), with each song reflecting an incident in the story or the mindset of one of the characters. The lyrics often blend into Vernell’s own words: à la Kanye West, “Kandice is not saying she’s a gold-digger, but she ain’t messing with no broke niggaz.”

Those more familiar with the songs she recommends—by artists who range from relative unknowns to superstars like Amy Winehouse, the Roots, and Erykah Badu—will more fully appreciate the book’s multisensory aspirations. Still, even those with only a passing knowledge of hip-hop may find themselves invested in Vernell’s characters, all of whom—even the dastardly Rofiki—she deals with sympathetically, giving each a chance to drive the narrative. Vernell even inserts herself as a character at one point, briefly switching to a first-person voice —but in the end, this is an ambitious and deeply authentic contribution to contemporary African-American fiction. Raw and imperfect but nevertheless magnetic. Recommended.

Kirkus Indie, Kirkus Media LLC, 6411 Burleson Rd., Austin, TX 78744

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