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Hell of a Book
Cover of Hell of a Book
Hell of a Book
A Novel
Borrow Borrow
***2021 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER***
***THE NATIONAL BESTSELLER***
Winner of the 2021 Sir Walter Raleigh Award for Fiction, Joyce Carol Oates Literary Prize Finalist, 2022 Chautauqua Prize Finalist, Willie Morris Award for Southern Writing Shortlist, 2021 Aspen Words Literary Prize Shortlist, 2022 Maya Angelou Book Award Shortlist, 2022 Carnegie Medal Longlist

A Read With Jenna Today Show Book Club Pick!

An Ebony Magazine Publishing Book Club Pick! 

One of Washington Post's 50 Notable Works of Fiction | One of Philadelphia Inquirer's Best Books of 2021 | One of Shelf Awareness's Top Ten Fiction Titles of the Year | One of TIME Magazine’s 100 Must-Read Books | One of NPR.org's "Books We Love" | EW’s "Guide to the Biggest and Buzziest Books of 2021" | One of the New York Public Library's Best Books for Adults | San Diego Union Tribune—My Favorite Things from 2021 | Writer's Bone's Best Books of 2021 | Atlanta Journal Constitution—Top 10 Southern Books of the Year | One of the Guardian's (UK) Best Ten 21st Century Comic Novels | One of Entertainment Weekly's 15 Books You Need to Read This June | On Entertainment Weekly's "Must List" | One of the New York Post's Best Summer Reading books | One of GMA's 27 Books for June | One of USA Today's 5 Books Not to Miss | One of Fortune's 21 Most Anticipated Books Coming Out in the Second Half of 2021 | One of The Root's PageTurners: It’s Getting Hot in Here | One of Real Simple's Best New Books to Read in 2021

An astounding work of fiction from New York Times bestselling author Jason Mott, always deeply honest, at times electrically funny, that goes to the heart of racism, police violence, and the hidden costs exacted upon Black Americans and America as a whole

In Jason Mott’s Hell of a Book, a Black author sets out on a cross-country publicity tour to promote his bestselling novel. That storyline drives Hell of a Book and is the scaffolding of something much larger and more urgent: Mott’s novel also tells the story of Soot, a young Black boy living in a rural town in the recent past, and The Kid, a possibly imaginary child who appears to the author on his tour.
As these characters’ stories build and converge, they astonish. For while this heartbreaking and magical book entertains and is at once about family, love of parents and children, art and money, it’s also about the nation’s reckoning with a tragic police shooting playing over and over again on the news. And with what it can mean to be Black in America.
Who has been killed? Who is The Kid? Will the author finish his book tour, and what kind of world will he leave behind?  Unforgettably told, with characters who burn into your mind and an electrifying plot ideal for book club discussion, Hell of a Book is the novel Mott has been writing in his head for the last ten years. And in its final twists, it truly becomes its title.
***2021 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER***
***THE NATIONAL BESTSELLER***
Winner of the 2021 Sir Walter Raleigh Award for Fiction, Joyce Carol Oates Literary Prize Finalist, 2022 Chautauqua Prize Finalist, Willie Morris Award for Southern Writing Shortlist, 2021 Aspen Words Literary Prize Shortlist, 2022 Maya Angelou Book Award Shortlist, 2022 Carnegie Medal Longlist

A Read With Jenna Today Show Book Club Pick!

An Ebony Magazine Publishing Book Club Pick! 

One of Washington Post's 50 Notable Works of Fiction | One of Philadelphia Inquirer's Best Books of 2021 | One of Shelf Awareness's Top Ten Fiction Titles of the Year | One of TIME Magazine’s 100 Must-Read Books | One of NPR.org's "Books We Love" | EW’s "Guide to the Biggest and Buzziest Books of 2021" | One of the New York Public Library's Best Books for Adults | San Diego Union Tribune—My Favorite Things from 2021 | Writer's Bone's Best Books of 2021 | Atlanta Journal Constitution—Top 10 Southern Books of the Year | One of the Guardian's (UK) Best Ten 21st Century Comic Novels | One of Entertainment Weekly's 15 Books You Need to Read This June | On Entertainment Weekly's "Must List" | One of the New York Post's Best Summer Reading books | One of GMA's 27 Books for June | One of USA Today's 5 Books Not to Miss | One of Fortune's 21 Most Anticipated Books Coming Out in the Second Half of 2021 | One of The Root's PageTurners: It’s Getting Hot in Here | One of Real Simple's Best New Books to Read in 2021

An astounding work of fiction from New York Times bestselling author Jason Mott, always deeply honest, at times electrically funny, that goes to the heart of racism, police violence, and the hidden costs exacted upon Black Americans and America as a whole

In Jason Mott’s Hell of a Book, a Black author sets out on a cross-country publicity tour to promote his bestselling novel. That storyline drives Hell of a Book and is the scaffolding of something much larger and more urgent: Mott’s novel also tells the story of Soot, a young Black boy living in a rural town in the recent past, and The Kid, a possibly imaginary child who appears to the author on his tour.
As these characters’ stories build and converge, they astonish. For while this heartbreaking and magical book entertains and is at once about family, love of parents and children, art and money, it’s also about the nation’s reckoning with a tragic police shooting playing over and over again on the news. And with what it can mean to be Black in America.
Who has been killed? Who is The Kid? Will the author finish his book tour, and what kind of world will he leave behind?  Unforgettably told, with characters who burn into your mind and an electrifying plot ideal for book club discussion, Hell of a Book is the novel Mott has been writing in his head for the last ten years. And in its final twists, it truly becomes its title.
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  • From the book

    I.

    In the corner of the small living room of the small country house at the end of the dirt road beneath the blue Carolina sky, the dark-skinned five-year-old boy sat with his knees pulled to his chest and his small, dark arms wrapped around his legs and it took all that he had to contain the laughter inside the thrumming cage of his chest.

    His mother, seated on the couch with her dark hands folded into her lap and her brow furrowed like Mr. Johnson's fields at the end of winter, pursed her lips and fidgeted with the fabric of the tattered gray dress she wore. It was a dress she'd bought before the boy even came into this world. It aged with him. Year upon year, the blue floral pattern faded, one shade of color at a time. The threads around the hem lost their grip on things. They broke apart and reached their dangling necks in every direction that might take them away. And now, after seven years of hard work, the dress looked as though it would not be able to hold its fraying fabric together much longer.

    "Did you find him?" the boy's mother asked as her husband came into the room.

    "No," the boy's father said. He was a tall man with large eyes and a long, gangly frame that had earned him the nickname "Skinniest Nigga Breathing" back when he was a boy. The name had stuck over the years, lashed across his back from childhood to manhood, and, having never found a cure for his almost mythological thinness, the man had taken to wearing long-sleeved clothes everywhere he went because the empty air held within the sleeves made him look larger than he was. At least, that was what he believed.

    He was a man who had been afraid of the eyes of others for all of his life. How could he not want his child to learn the impossible trick of invisibility?

    "It's okay," he said. "We'll find him soon. I know it. I'm sure that, wherever he is, he's fine. He can take care of himself. He's always going to be fine." He took a seat beside his wife on the tired brown couch and wrapped the spindly reeds of his fingers around the fidgeting doves that were her hands. He lifted them to his lips and kissed them. "He's a good kid," the father said. "He wouldn't just up and leave us. We'll find him."

    "He's the best boy in the whole world," the mother said.

    "Maybe he just went off into the woods to find some briarberries. I bet that's where he went."

    "You think so?"

    The father thought for a moment. "Not sure, but I'm hopeful, Dollface."

    The boy's mother chuckled at "Dollface" and dabbed the corner of her eye. Was she crying?

    The groundswell of laughter that had been tickling the boy's throat for so long finally-as he sat, invisible and unseen only an arm's length away-faded at the sight of his mother's tears. His arms tightened around his legs.

    He shouldn't have done this. He shouldn't have made them worry like this. They were good parents and they hated worrying about him. A lead ball of regret formed in the boy's stomach. It rang and drummed through his entire body. He needed to stop this trick he was playing on them . . . but how?

    What could he do? He was less than two feet from where his parents sat, but guilt over his mother's tears pushed down on the hands that would reach out and touch her and let her know he was there. It weighted down the tongue that would sing her name and free her from fear.

    There was no way, his five-year-old mind figured, that he could let them know that it had all been a joke. He could never explain to them that this was all meant to be fun. Not just fun, a celebration! After all, he had done it! For three years now, his mother and father had been trying to teach him to become...

Reviews-
  • Library Journal

    March 1, 2021

    In Adams's debut, teenage library worker Aleisha shares The Reading List she's found (all scrunched up) with a widower trying to relate to his book-obsessed granddaughter (75,000-copy first printing). Alderson's Sisters in Arms tells the story of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, the only all-Black battalion of the Women's Army Corps during World War II (150,000-copy first printing). Buxton's Feral Creatures reintroduces us to S.T., the fabulously cheeky crow who starred in the multi-best-booked Hollow Kingdom. Ferguson, the Duchess of York, tells the Victorian-era story of Lady Margaret Montagu Scott in Her Heart for a Compass (150,000-copy first printing). Second in a spin-off from Hearne's New York Times best-selling "Iron Druid Chronicles" series, Paper & Blood features wily Scottish detective Al MacBharrais. In Jio's latest, Seattle-based librarian Valentina Baker receives news sent With Love from London that she's inherited an apartment and bookshop from the mother who abandoned her. Wealthy newcomers wreak havoc to the point of horror in a lakeside rural town in Bram Stoker Award winner Jones's My Heart Is a Chainsaw (100,000-copy first printing). New York Times best-selling Kadrey wraps up his iconic "Sandman Slim" series with the Shoggot gang, led by King Bullet, overrunning a virus-undone Los Angeles (75,000-copy first printing). Debuter Lange's We Are the Brennans features almost-30 Sunday Brennan returning from Los Angeles to New York to explain to both family and ex-fianc� why she left them five years ago (100,000-copy first printing). Author of the LJ best-booked Mexican Gothic, Moreno-Garcia returns with Velvet Was the Night, featuring a romance magazine-reading secretary in 1970s Mexico City obsessed with the disappearance of her beautiful next-door neighbor. Switching from big-hit dystopias, Mott sends his Black protagonist on one Hell of a Book tour in which he confronts police violence. In Pearce's Yours Cheerfully, first in a new series, advice columnist Emmeline Lake helps keep World War II London safe A(150,000-copy first printing). "Bridgerton" series author Quinn joins forces with her illustrator sister to create a graphic novel telling the story of Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron, first hinted at in the seventh book in the series (50,000-copy first printing). After a four-year renovation, Paris's glamorous Hotel Louis XVI reopens, with Steel allowing Complications to erupt.

    Copyright 2021 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from May 17, 2021
    Mott’s stunning fourth novel (after The Crossing) delves into the complex and fraught African American experience. The protagonist, a nameless Black author on his first book tour, is reeling from his newfound fame and the success of his book, Hell of a Book. As he flies to promotional events, often in a drunken stupor, the author reveals that his vivid imagination makes it difficult for him to distinguish reality from fiction. So when he encounters “The Kid,” a 10-year-old boy with impossibly ebony skin, the author doubts the boy is real. The Kid, who uncannily resembles a recent victim of police violence, first appears at a hotel and continues to pop up during the book tour, leading the author to recall his own repressed trauma as a bullied Black boy in North Carolina. The author’s sobering recollections of his youth are punctuated with humorous and insightful encounters that include a discussion on national sociopolitical identity with Nicolas Cage and an improbable first date with a funeral director. Mott’s poetic, cinematic novel tackles what it means to live in a country where Black people perpetually “live lives under the hanging sword of fear.” Absurdist metafiction doesn’t get much better.

  • Booklist

    May 15, 2021
    A Black writer (the Writer) with a tenuous grip on reality endures a Dantean book tour. A boy named Soot (the Kid) learns that in a white world, Black safety depends on invisibility. The Writer is instructed by his publicist, "The last thing people really want to hear about is being Black. Being Black's a curse--no offense--and nobody wants to feel cursed when they read something they just finished paying $24.95 for." Soot's father laments the hard racial truths he must impart to his son, knowing that "[w]ith each word, his son would be capable of a little less love, capable of a little less imagination, capable of a little less life." As their stories collide, the Kid begins to haunt the Writer, appearing unexpectedly to share his traumatic anxieties and pose impossible questions. In his fourth novel, which veers from skewering satire to unspeakable sorrow, Mott (The Crossing, 2018) dangles his readers over a precipice of uncertainty. Is the Writer's book meant only to absolve white readers of their complicity? Maddening, disorienting, and illuminating.

    COPYRIGHT(2021) Booklist, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Kirkus

    May 15, 2021
    A Black writer's cross-country book tour becomes a profound exploration of love, friendship, and racial violence in America. A man finds himself sprinting down the hallway of a Midwestern hotel, naked, a stranger (whose wife he's just been caught sleeping with) close on his heels. So begins our nameless narrator's book tour, which will take him around the country to promote his debut novel, Hell of a Book. As the author confronts the politics of publishing and marketing, he must answer to two very different perspectives: There are those, on the one hand, who believe in the impact of his book but wonder why he has chosen not to represent "the Black condition." On the other hand, his media trainer advises, in a tone less flippant than sincere, that "the last thing people really want to hear about is being Black." Meanwhile, he begins to form an unlikely friendship with a Black boy--a shadowlike, ever present 10-year-old he calls The Kid--as around them the country mourns another victim of police violence. Braided with the author's narrative are chapters following the life of a boy referred to as Soot, which he's called by the kids in his rural Southern town on account of his very dark skin. Uncomfortable in his skin and bullied by his peers, Soot feels neither safe nor wanted in the world, withdrawing into himself and attempting to find some refuge in his imagination. When his father is murdered outside their family home, Soot finds safety in stories. As chapters alternate between the author's and Soot's perspectives, their narratives slowly begin to merge, unfolding into a story that is at once a paean to familial love and friendship and a reckoning with racism and police violence. By turns playful and surprising and intimate, a moving meditation on being Black in America.

    COPYRIGHT(2021) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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Hell of a Book
A Novel
Jason Mott
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