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Only the Strong

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  195 ratings  ·  35 reviews
"Captivating." —Jane Ciabattari, NPR Book Concierge: Best Books of 2015

"Incomparable charisma and verve." —The Root, Best Fiction of 2015

"Lean, mean, and moving." —Kirkus Reviews, Kirkus Prize nominee

Jabari Asim’s debut novel returns readers to Gateway City, the fictional Midwestern city first explored in his acclaimed short story collection, Taste of Honey. Against a 1970
Paperback, 288 pages
Published May 12th 2015 by Agate Bolden (first published January 1st 2015)
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Navdeep Singh Dhillon
This is a tender read about a very outwardly tough character: Lorenzo "Guts" Tolliver, a former professional leg breaker, moved to mend his ways after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. He is rendered thoroughly complex. I haven't read his short story collection, but this novel uses the same fictionalized Midwestern City - Gateway City set in the 1970s. The political and sociological shifts of the time this story is set in lend themselves to the complexity of the plot and depth of characters. W ...more
Aug 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This deserves a better, more thorough review than I can write. It's a great book - funny, sharp, and I enjoyed that it wasn't written at a breakneck pace. The non-urgency made the characters and setting so enjoyable. A semi-retired gangster, the right-hand man to the local crime boss, is enjoying his new pastime of feeding ducks and working at a taxi cab dispatch company. One day the crime boss calls him back to hang out with and guard a major league baseball star. Set in a 1970s fictional St. L ...more
Dec 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved it. Only the Strong started out sounding like it was going to be a gritty gangster novel. It turned into a portrait of many aspects of mid-century African-American life in Gateway City, modeled after the author's native St. Louis.
Oct 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An absolutely captivating novel. Because I'd read Taste of Honey, this felt like bringing people back into my life. Could not put it down.
May 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Just a really well written book that was both a slice of life character study taking place during a reasonably compact period (maybe a few months) in "real time" in the 1970's in a fictional take on St. well as a thought provoking, multigenerational take on responsibility, family, class and subtle (and not so subtle) racism and sexism in the era covering many years and events through memory and flashbacks (often lyrically interwoven into the present). Not being African American or old ...more
Nov 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
at first it seemed asim was maybe new to fiction, overexplaining, a little clunky, not the least bit shy of cliche. but he knows exactly what he's doing. he is overexplaining to document a vanished world. he squeezes every cliche for its humor, its utility in masking, and for play.
Brian TramueL
May 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Incredible story, in the light of Ferguson & the unrest in our communities all over these United of States. Given the time period of this novel it speaks to how black people live.
Dec 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
Slow start, but so glad I finished it. I was content with the interconnected stories and the characters they introduced, but was pleasantly surprised there was a culminating event that got my heart rate up.
May 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
I read this for a One Book, One Conference program for a library conference and really enjoyed it. It's three long short stories or novellas, linked by characters and setting. I like the way the stories interweave and the vivid details that capture a time and place.
Feb 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
writers of color challenge #9

This is a gritty kinda-crime novel set in 1970 pseudo-St Louis. Lots of great insights on life and race and culture in Black communities at that time. There is character development across the board, from the Crime Boss to the Local Doctor to the Thug and the Student and the MVP Baseball Player. Some folks are two-dimensional (baseball player!) but most are really well done. A lot of the character illustrations depict the realistic struggles, hard choices, past trage
Aug 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed reading Only the Strong which brought back some of the characters from the stories in A Taste of Honey and the addition of some new characters. I found the storytelling interesting and it definitely kept me wanting to read more. However, I am hoping that he's leaving room for a sequel or continuation of the stories because there were certain times when he would allude to something yet to happen (as a way to move the story ahead, I'm sure), but I am quite interested to know what happens ...more
Lester Spence
Jun 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
Full disclosure, I've known Jabari Asim for a while now, and consider him a friend.

Only The Strong takes some of the characters from his last novel A Taste of Money and explores them in a bit more depth here using a Walter Mosley-style mystery structure. Set in "Gateway City" (a fictional version of St. Louis) in the civil rights era, Asim does a wonderful job of exploring the characters and the setting, using both to talk about civil rights era black life in a segregated semi-southern setting.
Nov 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Urban drama with references to 70's events and R&B titles. I may be somewhat partial because my hometown is in close enough proximity to this fictional setting to be mentioned (along with its nuances) a few times. The characters remind me of people with whom I lived, worked, worshipped - and yes -- partied. Throwback narrative boosts this urban fiction title. Narrator delivers female voices well.
Kevin Prina
Jun 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book is wonderful. All the characters and their stories are flawlessly intertwined. The three sections are like the three seperate sections of a braid. Each section is centered around one of the three main characters and are woven together beautifully by Asim. The writing jumps around a lot but that is good because he does it in such a fluid way that it keeps the reading of the story fresh and you never feel like a section is dragging. Brilliant Job!!
May 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
The story is set in 1970s North St. Louis, a time when MLK’s assassination was fresh in everyone’s minds and Delmar served as the dividing line between the races of the “Gateway City”. The story is not specifically about the "divide". Instead, Asim uses the mood of the time to create a fictional story of passionate characters with separate, yet interconnected story lines. The story was well-developed and an enjoyable read.
Mar 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
Great novel from someone very well acquainted with old St. Louis. This story is set in a fictionalized version called "Gateway City." The locations made me think of my Grandpa. All it needed was a cup of his instant coffee, his old AM radio tuned to 1120AM KMOX, and the Globe Democrat on the table.

Lost a star from me because some of the plot points were too obvious. I enjoyed it immensely, though.
Jun 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
When i heard him read at Sundays @... I had already finished the book.
Loved the book on some Chester Himes chocolate noir with gangsters, dirty cops, a love interest and a meaty handed protagonist in the middle of it all.
So while its a period narrative, the refreshingly fresh take reminds me of a few other books like Ravi Howard's Driving the King or Stephen L. Carter's Back Channel.
Its good. read it.
May 09, 2015 rated it liked it
I liked the book over all even though I think the extreme amount of small details slowed the story down. I also agree with some other folks opinion of the ending being abrupt. it felt like the author didn't know how to proceed after the major event that brought all the individual story times to the same point. I did like that after all the drama there seemed to be a happy ending.
Michael Martz
Dec 16, 2015 rated it it was ok
Slice of life (and time) novel of St. Louis in the 70s. I grew up across the river and worked in St. Louis for a few years (actually, in the period the book is set within), so it was interesting to see familiar places and street names referenced. A little too slow-moving for me, with dialogue that didn't seem very realistic.
Sean Han Tani
May 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: black-american
great!! a very mellow/gentle toned story of people in a fictional early 1970s st louis. humanizes criminals while not romanticizing the crime. still not sure how to write well about fiction I like - but I like it.

despite its characters that might have had rougher pasts and the events of the book, it still manages to come off as very... peaceful, I guess.
Jul 27, 2015 rated it it was ok
I enjoyed this book a great deal - but I do not believe Asim does even an adequate job of writing complex female characters in the latter half of the book. I found myself hurried into an abrupt ending -- as if the laptop was running out of battery as he rounded the final bend. All that said, I will keep my eyes peeled for his next release. It will certainly be worth reading.
Shaun Bossio
Nov 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
This was great. Guts Tolliver is a fantastic character, and I was sorry to see him fade into the background after part I, though Artinces and Charlotte were interesting as well. Ending seemed to come quickly all of a sudden and I wish it was spread out a little more, like the rest of the novel, but that's probably nitpicking.
Aug 02, 2015 rated it liked it
Asim's prose is quick and easy, but still full of meat like Elmore Leonard's. Even though he sounds so much to me like Leonard, Asim has his own style, and I fell in love with the characters and cheered for them, especially Dr. Noel.
Stephanie Schmidt
Dec 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
Solid book. I wish more authors would get straight to the point like Asim does here. No flowery scenery or internal dialogue descriptions - straight action, and showing, not telling. Hope to see more fiction from this author.
Carla Lambert
Jun 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Loved this intelligent and timely book. The easy flow of Asim's writing made it hard to put down. Especially loved the imagery and description of a place near and dear to my heart. Brought back such memories of my 70's childhood.
Jun 28, 2015 rated it liked it
Happy ending story disguised as a gangster novel, but that's okay. Pleasantly predictable.
Dec 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
Great follow up to A Taste Of Honey. Beautifully written.
Jun 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
Such a beautiful, smoothly written story. Captivating from the first page. I felt transformed while reading.
Ed Harrison
Jul 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
A fascinating look at a handful of intertwined African-American lives in St. Louis in the 1970s -- very apropos today to boot. Bonus? The author hails from Newton. Worth a read.
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Praise for Only The Strong

"Jabari Asim is such an elegant writer that you won't realize how smoothly he drew you in until you're halfway through this book. Humane and humorous, compassionate and willing to get a little rough, this describes both the writer and the novel. Only The Strong does for St. Louis what Edward P. Jones has done for Washington D.C., Raymond Chandler for Los Angeles---marked