My Government Means to Kill Me by Rasheed Newson, Can be read in a few nights depending on your speed, Adult
“See, even during a pandemic, racism never fails to insert itself into the equation.”~p. 115
Told through the lens of Earl “Trey” Singleton as he survives his first few years living on his own for the first time and doing so in NYC, My Government Means to Kill Me is a great coming of age/slice of story. In the short time period we enter Trey’s life, we follow him as he discovers not only who he is, but also who he wants to be and what he cares about. The story is, at times, poignant, funny, shocking, and heartbreaking. One of my favorite moments is when Trey got the best of his landlord, Fred Trump (yes, that Fred Trump).
My Government Means to Kill Me was an unexpected read. I knew it was about the experience of a young gay Black man in NYC at the height of the AIDS epidemic. I knew it was told in first person. What I did not realize is that it would read as a mini memoir from someone in that time period. While a lot of first person fiction could arguably be described that way, what makes this book really fit the bill is the way Newson incorporates footnotes about actual people, places, events, etc. mentioned in the book. The use of the footnotes, then, situates the story in the real world.
And, honestly, reading this is a fake memoir works really well. So well that at one point I looked up whether the book was fiction or not because I legitimately forgot. And, as someone who sadly does not know much about queer history, the queer rights movement, or AIDS activism, I learned a lot, not just from the footnotes, but from the story itself. The book does an excellent job showing us how an individual may have experienced becoming an independent adult in 1980s NYC while also introducing us to key names, organizations, and events during a key moment of queer history.
While there is much sadness and frustration in the story surrounding racism, landlord issues, death, and the AIDS epidemic, at its heart, this is a book that celebrates life. And we could all use more of that.