“Long Division” by Kiese Laymon


Long Division is one of the books in this year’s Tournament of Books, and is EXACTLY why I get so geekily involved in the ToB every year. I would probably never have heard of or picked up this book on my own, but am darn glad I did.

I found it hard to follow at first: a 9th grader named Citoyen, “City”, competes in a contest called “Use it in a Sentence” then discovers a book called Long Division, which is set in 1985 and features a main character named dot dot dot City.

My name is City. I’m not white, homeless, or homosexual, but if I’m going to keep it one hundred, I guess you should also know that LaVander Peeler smells so good that sometimes you can’t help but wonder if a small beast farted in your mouth when you’re too close to him.

The book goes back and forth between the “real” world and the fictional, and jumps back in time, from 2013 to 1985 to 1964. There’s time travel, Klansmen, and a lot of sharp commentary on race. It’s smart, fast, funny, and provocative, though it did feel at times as if the bat$hit crazy narrative got a little away from the author. But, a wild ride that reminded me of two of my favorite things of the past few years: Victor LaValle’s Big Machine, Safety Not Guaranteed, and Frank Portman’s King Dork.

5 Responses to ““Long Division” by Kiese Laymon”

  1. Steph Says:

    I found this really difficult to follow initially, and it never fully resolved itself for me, but I wonder how much of that might have been due to the fact I read it on Kindle. I feel like it would have worked better in paper, but sometimes I’m weird like that.

    Have you read anything by Junot Diaz? I do see the LaValle comparison, but to me, this was really tonally and stylistically reminiscent of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I liked it, but did not love it.

  2. girldetective Says:

    Good point about the Diaz. I also found it hard to parse at the beginning, but went back and forth, and found myself flipping to the beginning a lot, which I would’ve been more frustrated doing on e-book.

  3. Kate Says:

    Yes! I’m so glad you liked it. I read it on a kindle and I didn’t notice a problem (unlike Mr. Fox, which they completely screwed up the chapter breaks, making it nearly impossible to read).

    I was waiting to see if you liked this one–I felt the exact same way.

  4. Jessica Says:

    I felt like it stayed together better than BIG MACHINE, and I kind of loved how it didn’t all just tie up neatly. It made me long to read it again, and I fully plan to. I also feel like I owe a big debt to TOB for introducing me to this one. And also for being the straw that broke the camel’s back that got me to read THE SON. Currently deciding if I should buy THE LUMINARIES or wait to see if the judges can talk me into it.

  5. girldetective Says:

    Jessica, I’m going to wait on library lottery to see if Luminaries comes in before it’s eliminated and in time for me to read it, but given that I just started the Goldfinch, have the Gilbert and Ozeki on deck, I’m guessing I’ll have to pass on it. I love this March madness! I agree that Long Division would benefit from a re-read, and look forward to it. Hoping one of my book groups chooses it to discuss–think it would be a great topic.