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Long Division

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  2,928 ratings  ·  514 reviews
Kiese Laymon’s debut novel is a Twain-esque exploration of celebrity, authorship, violence, religion, and coming of age in Post-Katrina Mississippi, written in a voice that’s alternately funny, lacerating, and wise. The book contains two interwoven stories. In the first, it’s 2013: after an on-stage meltdown during a nationally televised quiz contest, 14-year-old Citoyen " ...more
Paperback, 276 pages
Published June 11th 2013 by Agate Bolden (first published May 20th 2013)
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Elizabeth Barrett sullivan I think you're supposed to be confused and a little frustrated sometimes. The author doesn't give all the answers you're hoping for.…moreI think you're supposed to be confused and a little frustrated sometimes. The author doesn't give all the answers you're hoping for.(less)

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Average rating 3.85  · 
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 ·  2,928 ratings  ·  514 reviews

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Kiese Laymon
Apr 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Wilhelmina Jenkins
I am having a terrible time lately rating books that I think are brilliantly successful on some levels and much less successful on others. What I want to say about this book is: Read it! It's like nothing you have ever read. Think Octavia Butler's Kindred added to Ellison's Invisible Man, stewed up with a heavy dose of Haruki Murakami, but with Laymon's unique flavor. I'm still a bit dazed. Three stars isn't right - it's more like 4 stars and a "What the heck?" ...more
Mike Cavosie
May 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I dare anybody to write a better Huck-Finn-as-time-traveling-20th-and-21st-century-hair-and-word-obsessed-overweight-black-boy-coming-of-age-civil-rights-social-commentary-satire-comedy-drama-vigilante-love-story. Just go ahead and try.
Antonio Jenkins
Jun 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 40-books
What can I say about this book? My friends gave this to me at the right time. Being from the Mississippi Delta, this is the book I wanted to read at 16 as much as I wanted to read at 34. I laughed so much to myself, I wanted to read more. Then there is a seriousness in it too, that grips you and you know exactly how the character feels.
This book is Black manhood in Mississippi written in just under 300 pages.
Kima Jones
Jun 18, 2013 rated it liked it

Long Division is an ambitious first novel. Laymon can't be called anything short of a visionary for, in a little under 300 pages, taking on race, sexuality, coming of age, time travel, black southern christian religious practices, love, PTSD, Hurricane Katrina, the impact of technology on rural communities and notions of celebrity.

I thoroughly enjoyed the language in Long Division and Laymon's close attention to colloquial and regional details.

Some of Long Division was heavy handed where it did
Jessica Woodbury
I love a book that leaves me unsure of what exactly happened and how I feel about it, except to have me kind of bowled over in its wake and sure of only the fact that I must read it again.

Because of that reaction, I'm hesitant to say much of anything about LONG DIVISION. It's smart and confusing and is appropriately about teenagers because it's got a lot of the heady strangeness of teenagedom. It's also unafraid of race and class and other things people don't like to talk about.

I think I'll nee
Jul 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
When a book is really good, I'm excited to get to the end to see what happens, but when a book is great, I'm most anticipating reading it again in the future.

In Long Division, Citoyen 'City' Coldson is a wave brush-toting, slick-talking high schooler, growing up in present day Mississippi. After getting into a bit of trouble at school, City somehow finds himself reading a book titled Long Division, in which the main character is also a teenager named 'City,' in 1984.

I absolutely loved this book,
Alisha W
Aug 25, 2013 rated it it was ok
I really wanted to love this book and I tried, but most of the time I was confused. The time travel was hard to follow and interrupted the flow of the story. I was pretty intrigued by City as a character, and it dawned on me how few books I've read with young black male characters. And for that reason, I decided not to abandon this book. I loved how Laymon captured the rhythm of young black men; it reminded me of my brother and his friends. I want more of that. I waited patiently for Laymon to e ...more
Dec 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
“The ellipsis always knows something more came before it and something more is coming after it."

Laymon's brilliant debut novel from 2013 follows two narrative timelines in 1985 and 2013, both following a teenager named City in rural Mississippi. 2013 City discovers a book in his principal's office called Long Division that curiously has a main character also named City in 1985.

There is a time travel element to the book, and while this is innately a scifi device, the book is light in the genre. T
Jan 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
6. Only those who can read, write, and love can move back or forward through time.
This book did it for me. Granted, I'm a nerd for stories that look deeply at identity and stories that thoughtfully use time travel--and this book COMBINES them--but I didn't expect this story. I was thrown and have been processing it ever since. Like, a complete run-and-fetch-my-journal-so-I-can-meditate-and-respond-to-it sort of reaction. It put into words, into stories, into action so many issues and q
Book Riot Community
How can anyone dislike a book that’s prefaced with an Outkast quote? Laymon’s novel is not only full of satirical energy, but also fearlessly tackles the complexities of contemporary racism facing young black Americans. City, Laymon’s narrator and protagonist, is an unforgettable character with a voice that organically brings to life the adolescent challenge of contextualizing history. All the while, the structure of Long Division is cleverly experimental and engaging. This book deserves way mor ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
To fully understand the difficulty of writing about this book, it might be helpful to first skim the publisher summary:

"Kiese Laymon’s debut novel is a Twain-esque exploration of celebrity, authorship, violence, religion, and coming of age in Post-Katrina Mississippi, written in a voice that’s alternately funny, lacerating, and wise. The book contains two interwoven stories. In the first, it’s 2013: after an on-stage meltdown during a nationally televised quiz contest, 14-year-old Citoyen "City"
Jan 19, 2015 rated it liked it
Reading this book was like watching the movie Inception. There are a thousand and one threads to keep track of (whose dream are we in now?), and then when I got to the end, I immediately wanted to go back to the beginning and try to collect all the stray pieces of story I missed.

(As you can imagine, I become pretty annoying when watching complicated action movies. I'm the person constantly distracting everyone with questions: Who's that guy? Where are they going? How do those two characters know
so look, this is kind of genius, the genius book that you really want to read again from the beginning so that you can get the million things you missed. cuz laymon covers a whole lot of black culture and history in this book, and the richness of it, starting from the extremely cool and deft language, deserves a ton of accolades alone. so consider me blown away k?


1. i am not a fan of twainesque, fast-talking, smart-mouthed, boy-narrated literature. just not a fan. it doesn't rock my boat. h
Sep 23, 2013 rated it liked it
This book had me laughing out loud at several points in the story. I also could relate with going to Mississippi (home as my parents always call it) every summer to visit my grandparents. I really thought I would end up loving this book, but I just ended up confused and a tad bit grossed out (some 80's words for you). (view spoiler) ...more
Dec 15, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: kindle
For probably three-quarters of this book, I was really excited. It's so weird, and it could be hard to follow, but I couldn't wait to see how the author was going to tie everything up together to make it all make sense at the end. Unfortunately, somewhere in that last quarter I started realizing we were running out of pages and the author wasn't actually steering us toward a satisfactory conclusion. Maybe I'd get more out of a re-read, but there are some books you read once and know you need to ...more
Jun 12, 2013 rated it liked it
I enjoyed the writing in Long Division and the humorous way in which the author turns a phrase. The writing is in the spirit of Paul Beatty and Victor Lavalle. If you are a fan of these authors, you will love this book. The protagonist is City, short for Citoyen. He is a young boy growing up in Mississippi. There is a lot of energy in the novel, and brief rifts on various subjects, mainly race and location. And not just location geographically speaking, but also time-period wise.

This is where I
Here is another book I would not have read or possibly even heard of if not for the Tournament of Books. It is gut wrenching and powerful. The writing reminded me sometimes of James Baldwin, other times of Alice Walker. The story is a testament to the reality of racism and its continued presence in American culture, despite our half-black president, despite the unparalleled success of Oprah Winfrey.

City is an Alabama boy raised as much by his small town grandma as by his mom. He is smart, he go
Feb 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: black-experience
This is a time-traveling book. Mainly the characters are in 1985 and 2013, but there's also a part that takes place in 1964. The 2013 section features characters still dealing with the repercussions of Hurricane Katrina, but also just young black people trying not to be played or used as props for white people. Time travel is just never as satisfying as you think you might be, and being a story of black characters does not provide enough originality to salvage the narrative for me. ...more
Laila (BigReadingLife)
So trippy! But unexpectedly moving- I cried! This is the kind of book that makes me feel dumb, but I was totally absorbed. I need to think about it some more and I can't wait to talk about it with my book group. ...more
Apr 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book made me smile, it was an excellent debut. About City, a teen in Mississippi in 1985, but also 1964, and sometimes 2013, who, with other (also loveable) teens from his time and others, has to navigate history (including the klan) and the future (including all kinds of potential things), while also maintaining the boisterousness, posturing, inward-lookingness and awkward sexuality of the teenage years. I appreciated the humour and absurdity that this book delivered and the magic it offer ...more
Feb 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Grateful to the Morning News; if this weren't in the ToB, I might not have known about this book. Although I have never been one, I love coming of age stories narrated by adolescent boys. This one is special though. Narrator/protagonist City Coldson finds a hole in the woods where he and friends travel between 2013, 1986, and 1964. I take this as a metaphor for the back story of a black man growing up in the south. The history of civil rights, race relations, etc. is alive in the stories of blac ...more
Very good, yet very strange book. Will need to let it marinate a little. Coming of age story of a Mississippi kid that explores culture,racism, urban vs rural, religion, nature of love, vengeance, sexuality all from the perspective of a 14 year old boy with a very vivid imagination. Captures the awkwardness and humor of a teenager at that age. Reality and fantasy become indistinguishable all capped off with a very strange ending. Not sure how I feel about the book other than it was a very intere ...more
Kasa Cotugno
An allegory, a time traveling examination of the history of African Americans in the south, up to date, timely as well as intuitive. "...death felt like the only thing in the world that you could do once." Ellipses play a large part in the puzzle, but Laymon finds a way to disprove this statement much as Kate Atkinson did in Life After Life. Not an easy read, this demands attention and evaluation on the part of a reader, but the rewards are many. "We all ran away into tomorrow, because we finall ...more
Eve Dunbar
Jul 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I taught this book to 19 high school students in Poughkeepsie enrolled in a college prep program. They loved it, most of them even finished reading it in two weeks. We had so many wonderful conversations about race, gender, sexuality, power and responsibility...all based off of scenes from the novel and characters. If you know a high school student who feels no one is writing to them, you should buy them this book. And buy yourself a copy, too, because you're going to love it even more! ...more
Kiese Laymon's Long Division is a book of serious observations, tempered by an expansive and often biting sense of humor, and peppered with wildly allegorical imagery and situations. It explores issues of racism, gender in relationships, generational differences, and the links between past, present, and future. It is told from the perspective of a highschool student, but some of the content may go over the heads of young adults. (I know it went over this adult's head). It is recommended for read ...more

I typically like ambitious books. I would much rather a book swing for the proverbial fences, even if it is not always successful rather than play it safe. But alas, it is also bit of tightrope walk where it is quite easy to wobble or cross a line. Kiese Laymon's Long Division just got a bit too overly and unnecessarily complicated for its own good. Though for the sake of argument, I would not put up much of a fight if it was my own failings, mental capacity or attention span-wise.

The novel star
Jul 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Review published at

“City” Coldson is a loquacious 14-year-old sentence wizard competing in the live TV competition “Can You Use That Word in a Sentence?” There is only one other black competitor. When City stands up for his word, the judge gives him “niggardly” and promptly rejects his use of it in a sentence. City lets loose with some more words, letting everyone in the country know how messed up it all is. By the next day, the video clip is viral, and C
Jun 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I loved Long Division. I would list it near the top of the best novels I have read this year. The author's ability to engage with racism, manhood/masculinity, spirituality, family, and history while displaying incredible wit had me laughing out loud and even crying several times throughout book. In the end, this novel is about a young black man's coming of age in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. To really understand his place in the world, he has to go back, way back in time. That journey is fille ...more
Jan 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
I really want to give his book a 3 1/2 but since that's not an option, I choose to be generous. I'm just not sure how I felt about it which puts me right in the middle. I guess because it made me feel so many different ways. It reminds me of "Kindred" the way it's written, going back and forth between time periods. I wouldn't mind seeing another novel from this author.

If interested,I wrote a more comprehensive review over on the blog:
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Literary Fiction ...: Discussion: Long Division 142 179 Nov 24, 2013 09:26AM  

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Kiese Laymon is a black southern writer, born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. Laymon attended Millsaps College and Jackson State University before graduating from Oberlin College. He earned an MFA from Indiana University and is the author of the forthcoming novel, Long Division in June 2013 and a collection of essays, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America in August 2013. Laymon is ...more

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“People always say change takes time. It's true, but really it's people who change people, and then those people have to decide if they really want to stay the new people that they're changed into.” 12 likes
“This writing thing, it ain’t like that hip hop shit, City. For li’l niggas like you,” he told me, “this writing thing is like a gotdamn porta potty. It’s one li’l nigga at a time, shitting in the toilet, funking up the little space he get. And you shit a regular shit or a classic shit. Either way,” he said. “City, you gotta shit classic, then get your black ass on off the pot.” He actually grabbed my hand. “You probably think I’m hyping you just for the money. It ain’t just about the money. It’s really not. It’s about doing whatever it takes for you to have your voice heard. So I don’t know what you’re writing in that book you always carrying around, but it better be classic because you ain’t gonna get no two times to get it right, you hear me?” 2 likes
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