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  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

Review of Those We Thought We Knew by David Joy

David Joy's mystery, Those We Thought We Knew, set in the North Carolina mountains, explores issues of racism, corruption, generational privilege, betrayal, forgiveness, and the power of art.

"I don't know what to say," Coggins said, and that was the truth. He'd come with empty hands and now they were full, and he didn't know what to do with what he was holding. What she'd handed him was heavy and he had no place to sit it down.

Toya Gardner has returned from Atlanta to her rural North Carolina town to track her family's history and finish her thesis for graduate school. But the young Black artist encounters a local Confederate statue that is still standing, and its existence shifts her focus and energy.

Meanwhile, a man from outside the community believed to be living in his station wagon turns out to be a Klan member--and he has a notebook full of the names of local residents.

When two terrible crimes shake the small community, they also bring to light generations of dark history and dangerous secrets.

I felt torn about this book. The issues it raises are powerful: generational racism and privilege, the power of art, and abhorrent tendencies that may be overlooked or willfully ignored within a community, to tragic ends.

Yet I thought some of the characters' shock at seeing racism, hatred, ignorance, and fear laid bare felt naive, while some of these same characters' moments of awakening to their own racism and their realizations of their own privilege felt too easy.

The evil at the center of the mystery was a surprise because of the varied points of view, so while I felt a little bit manipulated, I was also glad to not have been certain of the disturbing truth behind the deadly mystery.

"I guess there comes a moment you start realizing that keeping your mouth shut's the same thing as nodding your head."

I found myself wanting more character development--particularly regarding the younger members of the police force, who are immensely appealing and interestingly faulted. But the book was driven by plot, multiple mysteries, the North Carolina mountain setting, and the story's social commentary on race, racism, power, and art.

I received a prepublication edition of this title courtesy of NetGalley and Penguin Group Putnam, G.P. Putnam's Sons.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

David Joy is also the author of the wonderful When These Mountains Burn as well as Where All Light Tends to Go, The Weight of This World, and a memoir, Growing Gills: A Fly Fisherman's Journey.

You can click here to find fiction and nonfiction books I've read and reviewed that explore issues of race and racism and politics or social justice as well as titles set in the South.


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