Book Review: The Unsettled

Book Cover Images image of The Unsettled

by Ayana Mathis

    Publication Date: Sep 26, 2023
    List Price: $29.00
    Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
    Classification: Fiction
    ISBN13: 9780525519935
    Imprint: Knopf Publishing Group
    Publisher: Penguin Random House
    Parent Company: Bertelsmann

    Read a Description of The Unsettled

    Book Reviewed by Donna Hill

    Similar in the bold and empathetic style of her debut novel, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, author Ayana Mathis’s newest tome, The Unsettled, weaves an intricate quilt of family moving back and forth and in and out of time and place.

    The story opens with Ava Carson and her ten-year-old son, Toussaint, being forced to move into a family shelter in Philadelphia after being kicked out of their luxurious home and lifestyle by her husband, Abemi. The shock and disgust of the experience at the shelter fuels Ava to find a way out. However, Ava’s “unsettled” extends beyond a physical space to a mental and spiritual breakdown that impacts her son. The once lively, inquisitive child seeks solace in the streets of Philadelphia and befriends an enclave of the homeless who teach him lessons that no child should have to learn. Ava’s own catalogue of losses; her husband, home, dignity, and sanity begin to reflect the life and person from whom she ran. When her son’s father, Cass, reappears in her life, Ava is once again “unsettled,” allowing herself to be mesmerized by his charm even at the expense of her son. Cass is consumed by what he believes are the injustices heaped upon him by a racist society. He sets her and Toussaint’s life into a downward spiral, grooming them both and the remnants of a small Philadelphia community into a paranoid cult that is suspect of everything from food to government, to one another. Yet, it is Cass who is a thread between Ava’s past and Toussaint’s future.

    Ava and her mother, Dutchess, have been estranged for years. And setting all this into motion was the murder of Dutchess’s husband Caro by a white mob. It unsettles Dutchess’s life and her worldview in such a way that she is ultimately unable to nurture her daughter Ava in the small, Black town of Bonaparte, Alabama. Dutchess pours what energy she has left into holding onto her land and what had been a vibrant town at the expense of her daughter. Once Ava is old enough, she leaves Bonaparte. Yet even with a solid education, attractive looks, and polished manners these things are not enough to keep Ava from sinking into the abyss of despair, desperation, and repeating the mistakes of her mother.

    Years later, it is the resilience of the young Toussaint, who ached to belong, to be loved, to have roots, and to be part of a family that offers hope for the future. With his parents jailed after their cult home was raided by police, Toussaint sets out to fulfill the promise his mother made years earlier—to return to his ancestral home of Bonaparte, Alabama, unite with his grandmother, and reclaim his birthright.

    Told through the alternating voices of Dutchess, Ava, and Toussaint, The Unsettled speaks to the transient lives of the characters, the moving, uprooting and displacement that reveals all their broken pieces. At the center is the generational trauma of racism and the longing for a place to call home.

    Read Knopf Publishing Group’s description of The Unsettled.
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