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Sorrowland

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Fantasy (2021)
Vern - seven months pregnant and desperate to escape the strict religious compound where she was raised - flees for the shelter of the woods. There, she gives birth to twins, and plans to raise them far from the influence of the outside world.

But even in the forest, Vern is a hunted woman. Forced to fight back against the community that refuses to let her go, she unleashes incredible brutality far beyond what a person should be capable of, her body wracked by inexplicable and uncanny changes.

To understand her metamorphosis and to protect her small family, Vern has to face the past, and more troublingly, the future - outside the woods. Finding the truth will mean uncovering the secrets of the compound she fled but also the violent history in America that produced it.

355 pages, Hardcover

First published May 4, 2021

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About the author

Rivers Solomon

17 books3,034 followers
Rivers Solomon writes about life in the margins, where they are much at home. They live on a small isle off the coast of the Eurasian continent.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,075 reviews
Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 122 books155k followers
January 12, 2021
Sorrowland, from Rivers Solomon, is a fantastical, fierce reckoning. It is the story of Vern, a young girl fleeing the only life she has ever known, her abusive husband, the cult he leads, to create a life for herself and her babies. But the tentacles of Cainland, the home she left, are always following her as she grows into a young woman and something more, something terrifying and powerful that just might allow her to break free from all that haunts her. Sorrowland is gorgeous and the writing, the storytelling, they are magnificent. This country has a dark history of what it’s willing to do to black bodies and Rivers Solomon lays that truth bare in a most unexpected, absolutely brilliant way.
Profile Image for Paromjit.
2,506 reviews24.5k followers
February 14, 2021
This is an astoundingly ambitious and harrowing novel from Rivers Solomon, destined to be one of 2021 must reads, a stellar sci-fi fantasy Gothic Horror, although it has to be said in many ways it defies easy categorisation. An alternative world that touches on numerous critical contemporary issues, and the hate, brutality, violence, sorrow and tragedies of American history. Vern is a 15 year old traumatised and abused albino black girl, 7 months pregnant who flees the Cainland cult for the woods, however, the community have no intention of letting her go. Hunted, the haunted Vern gives birth to twins, Feral and Howling, raised with curiosity at the heart of their unstructured lives.

With vitality and rage, this unapologetic, atmospheric, imaginative and lyrical storytelling takes in race, identity, gender, sexuality, misogyny, religion, motherhood, mental health issues, conspiracy theories, the damning state experimentations undertaken on black bodies. Intent on surviving the challenging environment of the wild woods, but burdened by her past and distrust of others, Vern slowly begins to forge connections with others, a highlight of which is her relationship with Native American Gogo and Bridget. There are twists and turns aplenty, there are revelations, the suffering endured, and the surprisingly powerful and transformative changes that start to take place in Vern as she begins to see, fight and take on the cruelty and horrors.

This is, without doubt, a disturbing and distressing read, but so ferocious, profound, poignant and moving, providing a pertinent social and political commentary, it feels like a beautifully written book I will never forget and I can see it occupying my thoughts for quite some time to come. I can see it having the same impact on other readers and it deserves to do incredibly well on publication. Hugely recommended. Many thanks to Random House Cornerstone for an ARC.
June 26, 2021
Crossbreed
Rivers Solomon is an author who crafts stories about those marginalised, those seeking a voice, and those who experience inequality and intolerance. The writing is poetic and edgy, as Rivers uses a style to add another dimension to a very unique story. I was really enthused from the outset of Sorrowland to embark on a journey into a challenging plot and a unique set of characters. Rivers takes the opportunity to layer the novel with several contemporary messages on black slavery, anti-US establishment and how powerful people can evade repercussion for criminal and unethical acts. These themes overlay a central plot where a young girl Vern escapes a cult to gain freedom and seek answers.
“Sherman preached that Cainland’s untouchability by the law was because of the God of Cain, but Vern was old enough now to know there was no God of Cain. Something else safeguarded the compound. Or someone else.”
Vern is fifteen years old living in, Cainland, where she is pregnant and married to the cult leader Reverend Sherman. Her nights are horrifying as she is strapped into bed and fed a concoction of drugs. Vern, however, manages to escape into the woods and ekes out an existence for four years trying to evade any search efforts to find her. The Fiend hunts her and torments her, letting her know she is being watched and hunted. She hears the wolves at night as they flush out the runaways.

Vern delivers twins, two boys she names Howling and Feral, and she teaches them about the woods with their exuberant thirst for knowledge. There is endearing respect the boys have for nature and all living things, even if it is to be food. Gradually Vern experiences physical change and we wonder if these are a reaction to the drugs (or now lack of), maybe cancer taking root and spreading, a viral infection, or a metaphysical change. In addition, Vern experiences nightmares and hallucinations she calls ‘Hauntings’. The hauntings feel very real and she struggles to recognise reality from the otherworldly visions and feels these are messages or cries for help.

Realising she can’t live like this forever, Vern takes the massive step of leaving the woods and tracking down her best friend Lucy, who left the compound many years before. On Vern’s travels, we discover she is an unlikeable person, brash, selfish, thankless, while also fascinating and resourceful. When she finds Lucy’s home, she discovers Lucy is presumed dead but forms a close relationship with Gogo, a Native American, and Bridget who take her and her children in. As expected, she is eventually hunted down and the scope of the conspiracy starts to unfold.

At this point, I’m thinking – take it home Rivers. You’re onto a winner. Unfortunately for me, the wheels came off, and it became confusing, bizarre, convenient in the plotting, irrelevant holes the story jumped into to somehow illustrate some of the issues the author is passionate about and delivered plot lines that seemed impractical and unrealistic. Major WTF moments ruined a beautiful thing.

In the first 60 % of the book, I was enthralled with an unparalleled storyline and underlying mystery. The last 40 % totally turned my opinion 180 degrees on what had been a very impressive novel. This was a Buddy read with my Buddy, Ceecee, and after being excited for the first half of the book and excited about our discussions, we both reached a realisation that a major shift had occurred, and the scenes were difficult to enjoy or understand. Please read Ceecee’s review, for her thoughts.

Ceecee and I seem to be outliers with this one. I would like to thank Random House, Merky Books, Farrar Straus & Giroux, and NetGalley for providing me with a free copy in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Farrah.
221 reviews557 followers
February 26, 2021
⭐ 4 these Rivers run deep Stars ⭐

Sorrowland tells the story of Vern, a pregnant teenager who escapes the cult Cainland. Rather than re-enter society she births and raises her babies in the woods. However Vern soon learns that Cainland's powers are far-reaching and more life altering than she could have imagined.

So that's what the book is about in the literal sense. But everything it's saying is in the subtext. And it has a lot to say about a vast number of topics, including race, religion, sexuality, community, growth, love, hate, control.....
I struggled in the beginning to find my footing in this strange new world but ended up enjoying the stunning imagery and symbolism.

I think it's very difficult to categorize it into one genre as it has elements of so many. One page could be horror but the next could be sci-fi. I guess, like Vern, this book is fierce, unforgiving and does what it wants on its own terms.

Amazing cover art designed by Abby Kagan!

𝘈 𝘩𝘶𝘨𝘦 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘯𝘬 𝘺𝘰𝘶 𝘵𝘰 𝘕𝘦𝘵𝘎𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘦𝘺 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘱𝘶𝘣𝘭𝘪𝘴𝘩𝘦𝘳 𝘧𝘰𝘳 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘢𝘥𝘷𝘢𝘯𝘤𝘦 𝘤𝘰𝘱𝘺.
𝘋𝘶𝘦 𝘧𝘰𝘳 𝘳𝘦𝘭𝘦𝘢𝘴𝘦 𝘔𝘢𝘺 4𝘵𝘩.
Profile Image for Ceecee.
1,860 reviews1,375 followers
March 4, 2021
This is the story of Vern, a fifteen year old albino black woman who flees the ‘Cainland’ compound where she has grown up. She goes into the woods where she gives birth to twins who she names Howling and Feral. Vern experiences ‘hauntings’ which seem like hallucinations but also feel real. After several years surviving deep in the woods, Vern ventures out ......What follows is impossible to categorise, it’s part horror, part magical fantasy, there are elements of science fiction, it’s part political and historical. It has a multitude of themes including motherhood, race, identity and gender, survivalism and living wild and transformation. It includes characters that are on the fringes of society obviously which includes Vern but also Gogo who helps her, who is Native American.

Vern is not a character who is easy to like, she’s in rebellion, lacks trust, is swift to anger and so can be aggressive and harsh. However, she does her best to protect her boys and I love the direct way she explains things to them. Much of this is attributable to her upbringing in Cainland which has its origins in black nationalist movements of the 1960’s and ‘70’s but which also becomes a religious movement. Much of the book is fierce, very unsettling, extremely hard to read in places because some events are dark, harrowing and very brutal, both before and after Cainland. Gogo is a fantastic character as are Howling and Feral who without restraints of being raised among families and peers are precocious beyond their years, very capable, brave and tough. Some of the imagery is very powerful and supernatural, very original and almost like a nightmarish unsanitised fairytale which at times is unnerving.

For the first two thirds of the book I’m all in, I find some of it weird and I can’t say that I understand everything but the power of the writing enthrals and the originality of the writing wins the day, we’re on track for a four or five star rating even though at times i feel I’m on some kind of weird LSD trip, without the drugs obviously! However from that point on the storytelling seems to change and I don’t like the direction it takes. The pace slumps, the messages become unclear and messy, the storytelling is overblown, in places it’s horrific and as we reach the climax the author chooses to give us some background to characters in Cainland which halts the flow. Why????

There is no doubt this is a hugely ambitious book, it’s clever and a lot of it is a very different literary experience. It’s challenging in a myriad of ways, at times a commentary on US society, on dubious government decisions, actions and race relations and at others it’s about gender. On occasions it’s mind bending and surreal with some of the imagery being so creative that it’s wise to suspend disbelief. Despite my reservations about the book, one thing is for absolute sure - it’s completely unforgettable.

With thanks to NetGalley and Random House UK, Cornerstone, Merky Books for the arc in return for an honest review.

This was a great read with Peter and as ever we had lively discussions. Thanks buddy. We do seem to be the outliers on this one and so it’s worthwhile to read other reviews such as Paromjit ‘s.
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
746 reviews1,112 followers
November 22, 2021
Books are one of life's greatest treasures.

Some of you know I've been unwell the last couple months. One of the worst parts of this ordeal is that, for a long time, I was unable to read.

If you are reading this review, you are probably a book lover and can imagine how terrible it is to be unable to read. 

Words didn't make sense. Opening a book was like peering into an abyss. A wave of heat and confusion would wash through my brain. The words looked like strange markings, symbols used by some ancient people and then forgotten. 

At some point during the last couple months, when I turned on the Kindle, I was able to recognise a couple words before the confusion took hold. Not an entire sentence, but my brain was able to decipher a few precious words. 

I cannot tell you how grateful I was, for those brief seconds, drinking in those words and knowing their meaning, before the darkness consumed me again. 

Gradually I was able to read an entire sentence, and then a paragraph, then two. I downloaded Sorrowland and it will forever be one of the most special books for me. It took me a few weeks (those who know me know that usually I read a book in a couple days) and I forgot most of what I read, but that does not matter. I was able to read it! 

When you think you might have forever lost the ability to read, there is little that means so much as regaining it. 

I wish I could say more about the book itself because I loved it so much and Rivers Solomon is an incredible writer. Unfortunately, I forget most of the details, though that is in no way the fault of the book or the author. I remember little of this period. It says a lot that I recall how much I enjoyed the story and how much I adored Vern, the protagonist. I borrowed her incredible strength for myself.

I will re-read it sometime when I can enjoy it fully and with all of my brain working normally. And then I will tell you precisely what worked so well in this beautiful and dynamic book. 
Profile Image for Charlie Anders.
Author 140 books3,668 followers
January 15, 2021
Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon contains so much wisdom and insight, wrapped in an abundance of passion and fury and tenderness. This is the first book I've read in ages that I'm certain I will come back to again and again, because there are rich gorgeous passages that I already know will mean more to me on subsequent readings. There is so much going on in this book, too: the spectre of what happens when rebellion is co-opted, our longstanding practice of using Black bodies for cruel and unethical experiments, the audacity of queer love. The arc of this book takes Vern and her babies away from civilization and then back to it — but they return changed, and they change everyone else, and this book restored my faith in our potential to transform just when I needed it most. Sorrowland is an essential read that I expect to see everyone buzzing about this spring/summer, and I'm so grateful I got to read it early.
Profile Image for Melissa (LifeFullyBooked).
4,486 reviews1,624 followers
February 24, 2022
This is an extremely complex gothic social horror novel. I had been putting off reading it for quite a while, but I saw the audiobook on my library's app and decided to give it a try that way.

It's a very engrossing audiobook. The story of Vern, a fifteen year old pregnant girl living in a cult called Cainland. She is forced into marriage to the cult leader, and eventually escapes and gives birth to twins as she ekes out an existence in the woods. There's so much more to this story than a short synopsis can contain, but as she is living there something happens to her and this is where the book gets more twisty. There are hallucinations and magic that twine throughout the story.

It's ultimately a horror tale that reflects today's society--gender identity, religion, nationalism, slavery, racism, and many other things. This isn't a light book and it isn't straightforward at all. It's a book that different readers will interpret in different ways. I'm not always one for deep symbolism and interpretation, so this is a bit where the book lost me. A little more than halfway through I really had to concentrate to figure out what was going on, and I'm not sure I completely succeeded. If you can get your book club to commit to reading this one, it will certainly garner some brisk discussion.

If you're looking for an intense read, this one will definitely fit your needs. I am still not entirely sure what I thought of it. The narrator for the audiobook, Karen Chilton, was amazing, I give her all of the credit for the fact that I was able to stick with it. Her voice became Vern to me, with all of its pain and heartbreak, but also with all of its triumph and success.

I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book, all opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,855 reviews1,892 followers
May 11, 2022
Real Rating: 4.75* of five, rounded up because the author's A Major Talent

FINALIST FOR THE 2022 LOCUS AWARD—BEST HORROR NOVEL! Winners announced 25 June 2022.

My Review: ↡↡↡ HEED. THE. CONTENT. WARNINGS. BELOW. ↡↡↡

There are almost no good people in this world, and Vern meets the worst of them. What makes this a deeply satisfying read is that teenaged Vern, in their unbelievable indomitable drive to thrive not just survive, manages to do exactly that. Overcoming all-too-real obstacles? Check. Guiding new lives through a terrible world, explaining how to be better? Check. Vern raising their children is the single brightest take-away I have from this unhappy story.
Loving, worshipping, and bowing down to folks who harmed you was written into the genes of all animal creatures. To be alive meant to lust after connection, and better to have one with the enemy than with no one at all. A baby's fingers and mouth grasp on instinct.

If I were to seek my mental filing system's catalog for closest comparables, I'd have to go with Toni Morrison's deathless Beloved admixed with Octavia E. Butler's more trenchant Kindred, as written for Quentin Tarantino to film. Yes...violence and menace are imbued in every scene. No, it isn't a splatterfest. Yes, every single thing that happens evokes an emotional response. No, there are no "answers" or fancy nostrums to help us deal with the underlying hate, like the lava in a volcano, erupting for as long as it erupts.
Going against tended to end more rightly, more justly, than going with. People were wrong. Rules, most of the time, favored not what was right, but what was convenient or preferable to those in charge.

If you've read 2017's An Unkindness of Ghosts or 2019's Blood is Another Word for Hunger, you're ahead of me in this realization. If you haven't, read this book. You will not regret your introduction to the magical prose that Author Solomon uses being this story. I'm willing to bet you'll get on to their back catalog after finishing the read. If not, if this is just all too much for your sensibilities at the present, read their free online short work that's part of The Verge's "Better Worlds" project: St. Juju.

This writer is a Talent in a world that needs more of them.

CW: sexual assault, CW: violence
Profile Image for Carrot :3.
253 reviews74 followers
July 22, 2022
1.5 stars.
This book was very hard for me to finish. I almost DNF-ed this. Almost.
It started out okay and I was kinda interested to find out about all the hauntings, Cainland etc., but the plot was dragged so much that it was so boring to read. I kind of liked Vern’s time in the forest but all the answers for Vern’s condition were given so late into the plot that I wasn’t even thrilled.
There was so much filler between the important plot points.
I liked the LGBT+ representation and Vern’s view on labels.
I hoped for some good fantasy/sci-fi elements but that was not the author’s focus. It was more about Vern’s journey to self-acceptance.
The part I loved the most in the book was Ruthanne’s story. I was bored to tears and her story piqued my interest.
When the story picked up at the end, I wasn’t even excited- I was just hasty to finish it.
And the end? So the government leaves Vern alone- even after the extent of her power?

Total time spent: 9 freaking hours.

~ARC provided by NetGalley for an honest review.

Check out my instagram!
Profile Image for Hsinju Chen.
Author 1 book184 followers
May 6, 2021
Content warnings: animal killings, self harm, childbirth, alcohol abuse, cult, gaslight, pedophilia, blood, death, drowning, rape, attempted forcing of medication, torture, hallucination, brainwash, non-consensual medical experiment, reclaimed d slur, suicide, cannibalism?, voyeurism?, drug abuse, child abuse

The craft of fiction at its finest.

Sorrowland opens in the woods with the fifteen-year-old Vern—who is Black, albino (the term is used in text), and intersex—giving birth to twins Howling and Feral, the latter also has albinism. Vern grew up in the Blessed Acres of Cain, a religious compound that was supposed to be a Black utopia, but she had to escape because everything there seems to be a lie. Over the next several months and years, Vern’s body begins to change. She is both stronger and more vulnerable, and she starts to understand that the power of the past while struggling to raise the twins with the freedom she never had.

I used to wish for a book in contemporary settings that references history and beliefs while telling a brand new story deeply influenced by the past. And now I have found it in Sorrowland.

The main concept is the cycle of history, with great emphasis on the violence against Black and Indigenous peoples in America. It is disturbing, both in raw descriptions and the recurring horrors of history. Throughout the story, there are countless Biblical references as well as mentions of historical and modern events that pertains to racism. Despite the pain and lingering memories from the past, the theme of rebirth—which the book opens with—creates a hopeful tone.

Vern is hungry to live and to be free, like her endless hunger for food. She would do anything to keep her children safe and as innocent as possible. When she meets Bridget and Gogo (Lakota, winkte), they become her found family. All of these characters are beautiful and real and passionate, their drives raw and primal.

There were so many visceral sentences that were punches in the gut, thoughts so accurate and candid no one else dared think. A lot of the scenes were allusions to being intersex and/or trans, especially since the intersection of identities being an underlying theme of Sorrowland. We have an intersex lead, an Indigenous transwoman, he/him twins who are really genderless. Through memories from shared history and trauma as well as the hauntings, we also get snippets of stories from other unrelated yet interconnected people from the past.

While I did have minor issues with some parts that might be ARC issues (time inconsistency and wording), the overall story is too rich to not love. I definitely need to read a finished copy.

Sorrowland is a condensation of history told through weaving fantastical elements. At first, I didn’t understand the ending, thinking it was sudden and didn’t fit the tone. But after thinking through the message of the story and the opening scenes, the ending, for me, made Vern’s and her loved ones’ lives come full circle. The final scene ended exactly where it should, still a reference to the Bible, still a reference to history. It transcends genres and is a mix of sci-fi, fantasy, horror, romance (sapphic), and literary fiction. The dedication line, “To everyone I will ever be, and ever was,” might not make much sense at first glance, actually fits the central plot perfectly. This work of fiction is a must-read, beautiful and haunting.

I received a digital review copy from MCD via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Buddy read with E.! Check out her review here!
Profile Image for Debra .
2,132 reviews34.9k followers
May 4, 2021
Well, that was an intense and meaty read. Whew!

This book took me quite some time to get through, I would read some and put this book down and turn to other books. There is a lot going on in this book. A lot of food for thought. A lot of issues being addressed. Plus, it was bizarre at times and there were instances where I just was not sure what I just read and had to go back and re-read some sections.

The book begins as a 7-month pregnant, Vern, flees Cainland, the religious compound where she was raised. She goes into the woods and gives birth to her twin sons, Howling and Feral. Hunted by the Fiend, she must survive and do the best she can to raise her sons.

While in the woods, Vern begins to change. Her sons notice it. There is something going on with her back. But what? Was she poisoned? Was it the drugs she was given at night in Cainland? Plus, are the "hauntings" she experiences hallucinations? Is this the result of the drugs she was given? Are the "Hauntings" telling her something? Are they even real? Vern eventually leaves the woods and meets a woman named Gonzo who with a woman named Bridget, help Vern, and take care of her children. There is a lot more there, but I will leave it at that.

So, the plot seems straightforward, right? Wrong! At least it was not for me. This book is a mixture of several genres and as I mentioned before parts were bizarre to me. There are a lot of issues being addressed in this book - survival, motherhood, abuse, violence, history, sexuality, friendship, race, identity, cults, religion, etc. For me, all the issues in addition to the numerous genres became overwhelming and bogged down the book a little for me.

This was an extremely ambitious novel. Many are enjoying this more than I did. I struggled in the beginning and I struggled at the end. The only part, I didn't struggle was in middle.

Beautifully written, Ambitious, genre bending, haunting and bizarre.

Thank you to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All the thoughts and opinions are my own.

Read more of my reviews at www.openbookposts.com
Profile Image for Nicholas Perez.
355 reviews87 followers
February 8, 2022
3.5/5 stars.

I wished I loved this more, especially after I really enjoyed The Deep.

In Sorrowland Vern is an albino Black girl who has fled from the Black separatist religious compound of Cainland, or the Blessed Acres of Cain. Pregnant at fifteen, she lives in the wilderness away from both the confides and terrors of White America, but also the strict, fundamentalist rules of Cainland. Soon her body starts to change; something is very wrong with her, and the ghosts she sees don't seem to help. When a fiend comes after her and her babies, Vern must navigate both the wilds and modern society to live freely, love, and learn just how truly disturbing America can be.

Sorrowland had all the ingredients to be a great novel--and it's not a bad book, but it still has some flaws that showed after the story progressed after the midpoint. Sorrowland is an unapologetic indictment of America. Everything from the government's own tests on Black and indigenous peoples to the everyday racism that its citizens normalize is confronted. I love how Rivers Solomon pulled no punches on the things Vern encountered. The book is also queer as fuck, probably one of the most queerest stories I've ever read: Vern is intersex and a lesbian (or just leans towards women in her preferences), Gogo is a lesbian winkte (a Lakota term that can't properly be described in English, but from what I gleamed she was a trans woman), there was a bisexual ghost and his gay lover who involved Vern in their corporeal sex scene, and Vern's mother was bisexual. And the prose was just damn good! Haunting, in the beginning at least, but never too overly florid and still able to guide the story in a good pace. And the body horror! My God, Solomon has such an imagination!

However, it begins to come apart when Solomon keeps relying too much on telling instead of just showing. Sometimes they do both in parts of the narrative, but we just need the showing. And where this telling errs the most is around the story's climax, when after Vern has learned about everything that has been done to her, to those at Cainland, and other things that have happened to other people. By this time in the book, Solomon has shown us all the atrocities and horrors America has done to its marginalized citizens over the centuries. We learned that Gogo's aunt Bridget was sterilized like so many other indigenous women, that Cainland was another U.S. government experimentation, and that so many people are blind or just accepting of these terrible things. We are shown just how terrible the U.S. government, and it really is that terrible in real life even if this is a work of fiction; but then there are these random interjections at pivotal moments explaining another American atrocity or corrupted way of thinking which just pulled me out of the action. For example, Vern is cornered by two White hunters who think she's a freak, but is also cornered by a woman made into a monstrous mutant; both want to torture and kill her. But then, Vern suddenly has an internal monologue about what in America is making such men so domineering and thinking they can act such a way. Why is she thinking about that instead of trying to find a way out of the situation? It would've been better for her to have thought about that when she got away, not in the immediate moment of danger. Much of the book's steam comes apart towards the end of the book, because the haunting atmosphere and mystery give way to a more, I'm not sure what the proper word for it is, X-Men-esque tone? I think I would've preferred it, if at the climax Vern snuck back into Cainland and used her fungal abilities to haunt Ollie, the feds, and Queen to the point of terror she was initially haunted with.

Another think that left me wanting was that we only saw the perspectives of Vern's twin sons Howling and Feral once. Mostly through Howling, we see a naïve innocence among the wilderness and terror of this world. I wanted to see more of that, see how Howling and Feral view their mother and those around her and what's happening to them, but it only happens once. And I found the book's resolution too convenient, it was like Solomon ran out of time or something. I wish they could have expanded upon it more.

However, there were a lot of things I loved too. As I said, the beginning of the book is so haunting and great. Vern's trials against the fiend in the wilderness kept me on my toes. And seeing her emotional development with Howling and Feral in that wilderness made he genuinely concern for them. And again, I cannot stress how queer this book is. And I really enjoyed the philosophical emphasis on how Vern is apart of the "darker" or "more wild" parts of the world and that is okay. That part of the world is not something to abhor or distance ourselves from and that those part of that part such take pride in themselves and embrace it. I love it!

At the end, this isn't a bad book, just one with flaws that weigh it down. I still want to read An Unkindness of Ghosts, because I love Solomon's writing and ideas. I think this book would've been better if Vern had never left the wilderness, or at least rarely ventured from it, and Solomon kept the haunting atmosphere.
Profile Image for Philip.
497 reviews661 followers
January 3, 2022
4.75ish stars

"Astonishing" is a word that publishers like to throw out in blurbs, and it's usually unfounded. But wow, this book is Astonishing! Both in the sense that I'm taken aback, even startled, and also that it's simply outstanding literature.

Vern is an Astonishing character and so are her kids (with the names Howling and Feral, of course they are).

The plot is Astonishingly horrific and brilliantly conceived.

The prose is Astonishingly natural and self-assured.

Read it and prepare to be Astonished.

Posted in Mr. Philip's Library
Profile Image for DivaDiane.
919 reviews82 followers
May 29, 2022
4+ stars

Wow. This book. For a book that is not that long, it sure does contain multitudes. Anyone worried about the dark nature of this novel, should read beyond the first part. One thing that I appreciate about Rivers' writing of difficult/dark themes is that they don't dwell on the horrific. The ending is almost hopeful. This is a book that will stay with me for a while.

As usual, Rivers' does not strive to make us happy or comfortable. As such, their books are hard, and this one is also just weird (the premise, anyway) and for quite a bit it stays weird, but at a certain point things start to make sense, and the payoff is worth it. This is also a very pointed commentary on quite a few issues, the most prominent being the treatment that Black (and indigenous) Americans have been subjected to by the US government and white people in general(ization). No holds barred. And it's deserved. Where I wish it weren't deserved is their opinion that white people are pretty much universally evil. I try not to be, at least, so some things in this book made me feel extremely uncomfortable and a little indignant, but you know? I'm sure I've been guilty of benefitting from my privilege. And this book is valuable for recognizing how we (white people) come across and are very often seen. Ultimately, it makes me very sad and ashamed.

We had a really great discussion about this book at the SFFBC Virtual Book Club yesterday and I'm so grateful for everyone's insights and comments. It made me appreciate this book even more (I almost wrote "love", but that's not the right word!).

Characters 7/10
Atmosphere 9/10
Writing Style 10/10
Setup 7/10
Plot 8/10
Intrigue 9/10
Logic 8/10
Enjoyment 8/10

Thanks to Netgalley and Rivers Solomon for giving me this book to review.
Profile Image for Bethany (Beautifully Bookish Bethany).
1,898 reviews3,125 followers
September 10, 2021
Sorrowland takes all-too-real history, adds a dash of hauntings and body horror, blends in dense themes ranging from gender identity and sexuality to motherhood and generational trauma, then sprinkles intersectionality and religious imagery on top. It's dark, violent, strange, and rife with metaphor. But surprisingly hopeful as well, given how bleak Solomon's debut novel (An Unkindness of Ghosts) was.

This is the sort of book that requires a lot of the reader. It's not just a story about a pregnant girl running from a cult into the woods where creepy things happen. It's also a maze of ideas and conversations that require you to be an active participant. And Solomon doesn't hold your hand through any of it. If you aren't already familiar with things like the history of Black Power movements, medical experimentation on Black people, police brutality, the unequal treatment of Black and indigenous mothers with regards to their children, ideas about communal memory and genetically inherited trauma....then you are going to miss a lot of what this book is doing.

Because of that, it's not something that everyone is going to like. But Solomon continues demonstrate their brilliance as a writer and thinker doing important work. It's a book that I'm glad to have read with another person, because there is a LOT to unpack. And I'm sure I am still missing things. It's both brutal and soft, dealing with trauma and abuse, but also the hard road to love and healing. I found it to be both heartbreaking and hopeful and will continue to read whatever Rivers Solomon decides to write.
Profile Image for Boston.
385 reviews1,867 followers
May 5, 2021
I want to start this review by saying that there are themes and trauma brought up in this book that I will never be able to understand. That being said, I think this was an absolutely incredible story following one of the best protagonists I’ve ever read about. Vern’s upbringing and subsequent escape was so enthralling to me, I found myself drinking up chapters like water at 3am. It was such a powerful yet heartbreaking story and I can only imagine how much more impactful it will be for Black readers and I hope the people who need this story the most will be able to read it.

*thank you to the publisher for sending me an early copy of this book in exchange for an honest review
Profile Image for Katie Colson.
604 reviews5,300 followers
June 12, 2021
Reading Vlog/Review: https://youtu.be/gmICC9mZPpI

Wow. I had no idea what this was about going in and it blew me away. I loved it. So so so weird. But also sapphic and raw and deep and strangely magical. Also a cult? Love it.
Profile Image for Jaidee .
561 reviews1,024 followers
February 9, 2023
2.5 "some entertainment, plenty of potential" stars !!!

I am not going to write a long or detailed review on this one.

There are an amazing number of ideas here that read more like a personal manifesto on the continued liberation of the oppressed in the USA including women, those with disabilities, queers, non-binary identities, aboriginals, the poor as well as brothers and sisters that have shades of black and brown skin tones.

There is a lot of hyperbole, disparate writing styles and a demonization of any person or group that holds any type of power.

I feel that with some re-writes, plenty of editing and less moralizing and"blatant telling" along with fewer convenient plot devices and Marvel comic heroics that this could have been an amazingly effective and powerful novel to elicit dialogue as well as provoke thought that is more geared to healing than antagonizing....

In the end, I acknowledge that this novel was not written for me and what the hell do I know but I wanted my reader to understand the reasons for my middling 2.5 rating.

Profile Image for Elle.
584 reviews1,260 followers
Want to read
December 21, 2020
Just got approved for this one woooooo!! Loved The Deep and can’t wait to read this!!!!!


*Thanks to Farrar, Straus an Giroux & Netgalley for an advance copy!
Profile Image for inciminci.
314 reviews19 followers
July 13, 2021
Ever since I have read Solomon's "An Unkindness of Ghosts" a couple of years ago I am a sucker for everything written by them and Sorrowland was no exception to that rule. If anything, it even further reinforced my admiration, because this is an impeccably written, deep, meaningful book and may even be the author's best yet.

We follow Vern who, heavily pregnant, flees the religious compound she has been living in all her life and hides in the woods, where she gives birth to twins Feral and Howling. After living some years in the forest without the influence of the outside world, Vern enters a kind of metamorphosis and her body starts changing in eerie (and may I say cool?) ways, which forces her to leave her quiet life and to explore the roots of her bodily changes, explore the true secrets of the compound.

With every step of Vern's journey, Sorrowland gradually increases in complexity, making it more engaging with each tier of her story and leading to places truly unexpected. Every single character and their interactions were interesting and engaging to me, adding to the captivation of the grave and, yes, sorrowful metaphor this book deals with. Sorrowland is a whole different level of art, of telling, it's a masterpiece and seriously, it should be read everywhere by everyone.
Profile Image for Dawn F.
493 reviews64 followers
May 14, 2021
This is the third Rivers Solomon work I read and they continue to impress. Their style is recognizable and unique, blending brutal, historical reality with poetic, fantastical prose seamlessly. This is a dark, yet oddly gentle, sensitive story of a woman's struggle to escape the clutches of Cainland, a seemingly supportive, religious community of black people which is not what it seems. Vern's story is a metamorphosis, quite literally, and completely fascinating from page one. I couldn't put it down. All the stars in the world for this raw and honest novel.
Profile Image for Rincey.
786 reviews4,560 followers
July 4, 2021
3.5 stars

Explores some really interesting ideas and loved the first 2/3s a whole lot. The last bit takes a bit of a dive IMO

Watch me discuss this in my June wrap up: https://youtu.be/V8XoY3vzEaw
Profile Image for Lou (nonfiction fiend).
2,771 reviews1,625 followers
May 4, 2021
Sorrowland is a fierce, flawless and darkly captivating genre-bending contemporary novel, with elements of speculative science fiction, horror, thriller and gothic fiction. It boldly tackles the complex history of racism in America, the systems of oppression that continue to exert such an extraordinary force in our world and the increasing marginalisation of those society deems to be undesirable. Vern is an intersex, albino 15-year-old black teenager who was raised in a cult in Cainland known as the Blessed Acres of Cain and is wedded to the cult leader Reverend Sherman. As time passes she becomes more and more desperate to escape the oppression of the strict religious compound. As she reaches 7 months into her pregnancy she decides to flee to the woods for shelter in the hope of leaving the trauma and abuse behind her. There she soon gives birth to twins she names Howling and Feral and plans to raise them far away from the influences she was subjected to, but little does she know, the claustrophobic community she was once part of does not want to let her go. For 4 years she manages to successfully evade those hunting her down and stalking her family like prey as she dresses her young babies in the furs and hides of animals she has caught.

They have a desire to learn and understand their environment so Vern teaches her two boys about nature to feed their omnipresent curiosity. The family are being followed by The Fiend, a wicked tormentor who slaughters animals before dressing them in infants’ clothes and scattering them throughout the forest, letting Vern know she is being watched. The Fiend also tries to smoke them out by cultivating dangerous fires that rage with a searing heat and spread through the dense woodland ferociously. And until their unexpected meeting with him, Howling and Feral have had no contact with humans for the first 4 years of their life. Forced to fight back against the community that refuses to let her go, she unleashes incredible brutality far beyond what a person should be capable of, her body wracked by inexplicable and uncanny changes. Her metamorphosis is caused by a parasite that ravishes and takes over her body. Alongside these terrifying physical changes, Vern gradually begins to experience horrific nightmares and hallucinations that haunt her everywhere she goes and she can no longer tell reality from the supernatural visions she is plagued with.

To understand her metamorphosis and to protect her small family, Vern has to face the past, and more troublingly, the future--outside the woods. Finding the truth will mean uncovering the secrets of the compound she fled but also the violent history in America that produced it. This is a compelling, enthralling and beguiling story of a family fighting to survive against the odds. It's rich in claustrophobic atmosphere and a creeping sense of dread underpins the narrative from start to finish; a striking searing novel featuring ample twists and turns, Sorrowland hits with authority and urgency. This is one of those rare books I will never forget for its stunning, rage-driven and explosive, yet nuanced, portrayal of issues such as misogyny, identity, gender, religion, race, love, loss, trust, survival, motherhood, sexuality, conspiracy, mental health and government experimentation on blacks. It's written beautifully and is full of imagination and disturbing imagery that unsettles you more and more as the story progresses. Told in Solomon’s bold, fearless literary voice this profound and incredibly moving tale is evocative and often upsetting and is an astonishing novel, not only for the story it tells–the odyssey and transformation of Vern, through a nightmarish yet recognisable landscape–but also for the story it tells about today. One of the finest books of 2021. I cannot recommend this highly enough.
Profile Image for sarah.
377 reviews396 followers
July 10, 2021
“Going against tended to end more rightly, more justly, than going with. People were wrong. Rules, most of the time, favored not what was right, but what was convenient or preferable to those in charge.”

Sorrowland tells the story of Vern as she flees from a cult and its leader to create a new life with her children. But Cainland doesn't let her go easily. She is hunted and haunted by the cult, so eventually decides to leave the woods and go to civilisation to find her friend, Lucy.

“How come white folks were always telling Black people to get over slavery because it was 150 or so years ago but they couldn’t get over their Christ who died 1,830 years before that?”

Sorrowland is a deeply ambitious and complex story of misogyny, racism, sexuality and power. While I loved it conceptually, I found the execution to not be quite what I was looking for. This included some sci-fi elements that I wasn't expecting, and the overall tone was just a little off. I found myself bogged down by all the imagery and symbolism, but couldn't bring myself to try and sort through all of it because I wasn't invested enough.

“She was a girl made of aches and she flung her body at the world in the hopes that something, anything, might soothe the tendernesses.”

If you are a fan of weird, experimental and lightly sci-fi books- you will probably love this! It was just a little too elusive and strange for my personal tastes. I have a feeling that this would be a really good book to buddy read or discuss with a book club. Unfortunately, I didn't have anyone to discuss it with so I don't think I had the best experience I could have.

Overall, most of my critisisms were by no fault of the book itself, but me. I simply think I wasn't the target audience. But if you are, I can completely see how you would love this book.

★★☆☆☆.5 stars

Thank you to Random House UK for this ARC

Release Date: 6 May 2021
Profile Image for MZ.
402 reviews96 followers
April 28, 2021
4.5 stars. This book did not let me go, it’s original, dark and emotional and it has some suspense elements. It’s going to be tricky to write a review without spoilers, but here we go.

The title is well chosen, since there is so much sorrow and despair. While this is fiction, it still gives some painful insights in how messed up our society can be. Generally, I do not like it when a book is very depressing, but there was also enough light in this book to make this an enjoyable read for me. The start of the book could be considered realism, but after a while it shifts out of realism. If I have to compare it with something, I would compare it to the feel of a dystopian novel where you know certain things are not realistic, but at the same time parts of it do not feel entirely unrealistic.

The main of the book is Vern and she recently ran away from a religious cult. At 15 years old she’s still a girl, but at the time of her escape she’s 7 months pregnant. This already gives enough insight in the cult she was living in. In an effort to remain hidden from the cult, she decides to try to survive in the forest with her twins. However, after a while, strange things are happening to her body and she is forced to leave the forest with her two children that are not adapted to civilized life, or other people for that matter.

Vern is a complex character. She’s not the most likeable person, being shaped by her life experiences, but I admired her and cared for her all the same. She’s smart, stubborn, and brave. Especially the part where she lives in the woods illustrates her strength, she has an impaired eye sight, is still very young and has two young children care for, but she does not give up. I loved her two children, they play an important role in the book, you watch them grow and become their own person. It’s not always easy to give kids personality in books, but Solomon did an excellent job.

The book has a specific prose that is tailored to Vern and I found that I enjoyed it. The pace is rather slow, especially during the first half of the book, but despite the slow pace the story kept me intrigued the entire time. It is written in 3rd person almost entirely from the POV of Vern (I think about 98%). I believe there were two small instances where the POV changed (if I didn’t miss one).

The only comments I have are about the last 20% of the book (which led to a decrease in rating from 5 to 4 stars) and I have to mention that they largely come down to my personal preferences. The ending felt abrupt and several things are left open. This was clearly a deliberate choice of the author, but I would have liked more closure and preferably a small peek into the future. There was also a change in POV very near the end. While this actually gave quite an interesting story on its own, it pulled me out of the main story, which was right in the middle of the final conflict, so I wish it were left out.

I’m really bad at giving trigger warnings, so I’m not even going to try for this book, but there is quite a long list, so you may want to check some other reviews for a comprehensive list. This book is not for everybody, but it really got to me and is one that I will not forget.
If you’re looking for something dark and moody, just outside the realm of realism, with excellent character building, then I easily recommend this book!

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Allison Hurd.
Author 3 books678 followers
April 27, 2022
Rivers is truly astonishing. They're a poet in the most punk way, saying hard things that aren't nice to hear, but in a way that you can't look away from.

CONTENT WARNING:

Things that awe me:

-This book comes for everyone. It's not swinging, it's not starting anything, but it's real ready for someone to finish it. It attacks white feminism, moderate whites, internet culture, and most specifically, it has a lot to say to Black American folks, especially Black mothers. I won't say more there, but wow was this a very poignant conversation. And it's not that long!!

-The prose. No wasted space. No fluff. No top-of-the-head word when there could be a "right" word that imbues the scene with so much more meaning. So many phrases that just level me, emotionally and intellectually.

-The balance. This is hard stuff, but we never fetishize it, or honor it. People who escape aren't "stronger", people who stay aren't "sheep". But also there's humor and love and growth and flaws and all the other things, because you know what? Queer people, mothers, and marginalized people can be each of those things and also have other things in their lives. And we get glimpses of all of it! In this tiny book! Love that.

-The end. I think Solomon is getting better at this part of writing. It felt at rest and hopeful, but wasn't neat, and when you look at it with any sort of care, it's pretty damn dark.

Things that weren't quite 5 stars:

-The plot. I'm...not entirely sure I followed. Which was weird, since it's based on real things. Not the supernatural element, of course, but like the rest is...real. So it should be easy to connect the dots. But somehow I do not end up in the same place when I add it all up.

-The supernatural stuff. Can anyone picture it? What is it supposed to look like? I got And how does it tie in? They sort of say it's about the government, but it felt very X Files. Which, again, a lot of conspiracies, especially held by certain communities in the US are what they are because of real stuff that shouldn't work the way it does, so I bought it, but I wished for a bit more connective tissue.

Absolutely worth a read, as all of their work has been for me to date. Can't wait to see where we go next, but also I need a second because woof these things are work!
Profile Image for Dannii Elle.
1,966 reviews1,387 followers
June 3, 2021
Actual rating 4.5/5 stars.

Vern is a Black woman with albinism, an escapee from a religious compound, and a single mother to two little ones who do not realise that their upbringing in the wild edges of the world is not the usual one. The prejudices that come with each of these are the least of her worries when her body first starts to itch and then begins to transform. And with these alterations comes abilities no human should ever have access to. But then Vern's entire existence has been one no-one should have to experience.

This was a tragic, unsettling, and entirely compelling read. Vern's story was a hard one to digest but her perseverance and her ability to keep striving forward, when hope was in continuously short supply, made her an immediately likable protagonist. She was never one I ever felt close to, as all she had suffered through made her wary and untrusting of strangers, but she was one I saw much goodness and strength in.

The reader became increasingly exposed to more fantastical elements as Vern's story progressed. They were blended so seamlessly into the rest of her story that it became entirely believable and just another facet of her existence.

At its heart, this is, or at least it felt for me, a story about suffering. And yet it was not an entirely bleak or hopeless one, no matter what Vern thought at different junctures of her journey. There was much light to be found in these pages but they were interspersed around horrific crimes and dark deeds, inflicted against Vern and those around her.

Many parallels can be drawn between this fictional story and real-world America, where many Verns reside. They might not have manifested abilities but the prejudice and suffering they experience is very much the same. As is the fight and the power that resides inside of them.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to the author, Rivers Solomon, and the publisher, Merky Books, for this opportunity.
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