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Nightcrawling
Cover of Nightcrawling
Nightcrawling
A novel
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BOOKER PRIZE NOMINEE • NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER • OPRAH’S BOOK CLUB PICK • A dazzling novel about a young Black woman who walks the streets of Oakland and stumbles headlong into the failure of its justice system—the debut of a blazingly original voice and "a soul-searching portrait of survival and hope" (Oprah Winfrey)
Nightcrawling bursts at the seams of every page and swallows you whole.” —Tommy Orange, author of There There

Kiara and her brother, Marcus, are scraping by in an East Oakland apartment complex optimistically called the Regal-Hi. Both have dropped out of high school, their family fractured by death and prison
But while Marcus clings to his dream of rap stardom, Kiara hunts for work to pay their rent—which has more than doubled—and to keep the nine-year-old boy next door, abandoned by his mother, safe and fed. One night, what begins as a drunken misunderstanding with a stranger turns into the job Kiara never imagined wanting but now desperately needs: nightcrawling. Her world breaks open even further when her name surfaces in an investigation that exposes her as a key witness in a massive scandal within the Oakland Police Department.
Rich with raw beauty, electrifying intensity, and piercing vulnerability, Nightcrawling marks the stunning arrival of a voice unlike any we have heard before.
BOOKER PRIZE NOMINEE • NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER • OPRAH’S BOOK CLUB PICK • A dazzling novel about a young Black woman who walks the streets of Oakland and stumbles headlong into the failure of its justice system—the debut of a blazingly original voice and "a soul-searching portrait of survival and hope" (Oprah Winfrey)
Nightcrawling bursts at the seams of every page and swallows you whole.” —Tommy Orange, author of There There

Kiara and her brother, Marcus, are scraping by in an East Oakland apartment complex optimistically called the Regal-Hi. Both have dropped out of high school, their family fractured by death and prison
But while Marcus clings to his dream of rap stardom, Kiara hunts for work to pay their rent—which has more than doubled—and to keep the nine-year-old boy next door, abandoned by his mother, safe and fed. One night, what begins as a drunken misunderstanding with a stranger turns into the job Kiara never imagined wanting but now desperately needs: nightcrawling. Her world breaks open even further when her name surfaces in an investigation that exposes her as a key witness in a massive scandal within the Oakland Police Department.
Rich with raw beauty, electrifying intensity, and piercing vulnerability, Nightcrawling marks the stunning arrival of a voice unlike any we have heard before.
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  • From the cover The swimming pool is filled with dog shit and Dee’s laughter mocks us at dawn. I’ve been telling her all week that she’s looking like the crackhead she is, laughing at the same joke like it’s gonna change. Dee didn’t seem to mind that her boyfriend left her, didn’t even seem to care when he showed up poolside after making his rounds to every dumpster in the neighborhood last Tuesday, finding feces wrapped up in plastic bags. We heard the splashes at three a.m., followed by his shouts about Dee’s unfaithful ass. But mostly we heard Dee’s cackles, reminding us how hard it is to sleep when you can’t distinguish your own footsteps from your neighbor’s.

    None of us have ever set foot in the pool for as long as I’ve been here; maybe because Vernon, the landlord, has never once cleaned it, but mostly because nobody ever taught none of us how to delight in the water, how to swim without gasping for breath, how to love our hair when it is matted and chlorine-­soaked. The idea of drowning doesn’t bother me, though, since we’re made of water anyway. It’s kind of like your body overflowing with itself. I think I’d rather go that way than in some haze on the floor of a crusty apartment, my heart out-­pumping itself and then stopping.

    This morning is different. The way Dee’s laugh swirls upward into a high-­pitched sort of scream before it wanders into her bellow. When I open the door, she’s standing there, by the railing, like always. Except today she faces toward the apartment door and the pool keeps her backlit so I can’t see her face, can only see the way her cheekbones bob like apples in her hollow skin. I close the door before she sees me.

    Some mornings I peek my head into Dee’s unlocked door just to make sure she’s still breathing, writhing in her sleep. In some ways I don’t mind her neurotic laughing fits because they tell me she’s alive, her lungs haven’t quit on her yet. If Dee’s still laughing, not everything has gone to shit.

    The knock on our apartment is two fists, four pounds, and I should have known it was coming, but it still makes me jump back from the door. It ain’t that I didn’t see Vernon making his rounds or the flyer flipping up and drifting back into place on Dee’s door as she stared at it, still cackling. I turn and look at my brother, Marcus, on the couch snoring, his nose squirming up to meet his brows.

    He sleeps like a newborn, always making faces, his head tilting so I can see his profile, where the tattoo remains taut and smooth. Marcus has a tattoo of my fingerprint just below his left ear and, when he smiles, I find myself drawn right to it, like another eye. Not that either of us has been smiling lately, but the image of it—­the memory of the freshly rippling ink below his grin—­keeps me coming back to him. Keeps me hoping. Marcus’s arms are lined in tattoos, but my fingerprint is the only one on his neck. He told me it was the most painful one he’d ever gotten.

    He got the tattoo when I turned seventeen and it was the first day I ever thought he might just love me more than anything, more than his own skin. But now, three months from my eighteenth birthday, when I look at my quivering fingerprint on the edge of his jaw, I feel naked, known. If Marcus ended up bloodied in the street, it wouldn’t take much to identify him by the traces of me on his body.

    I reach for the doorknob, mumbling, “I got it,” as if Marcus was ever actually gonna put feet to floor this early. On the other side of the...
About the Author-
  • LEILA MOTTLEY is the 2018 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate. Her work has been featured in The New York Times and Oprah Daily. She was born and raised in Oakland, where she continues to live. Nightcrawling is her first novel.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from April 18, 2022
    Mottley, Oakland’s former Youth Poet Laureate, debuts with a bold and beautiful account of two Black siblings striving to thrive and survive. Seventeen-year-old Kiara and her older brother, Marcus, have been on their own since their single mother was convicted of negligent homicide three years earlier. When the landlord raises the rent on their Oakland studio apartment, Kiara grows desperate. Marcus is no help; he can’t hold down a job while he chases dreams of becoming a hip-hop star. Kiara turns a few tricks—at first, just enough to pay the rent and buy groceries for her and the neighbor’s son she’s taking care of. But soon Kiara is caught up in a sex-trafficking ring servicing Bay Area cops, and her world collapses when the scandal goes public. Mottley powerfully chronicles Kiara’s desperation and her bravery, as well as her determination to keep moving forward despite the crushing torrent of losses affecting her family as well as those of everyone she knows. Scenes of realism are rendered with a poet’s eye, as Kiara experiences moments of beauty and joy by tagging an underpass wall with spray paint, learning to swim in a dirty pool, and finding shelter in the arms of a friend. This heartrending story makes for a powerful testament to a Black woman’s resilience. Agent: Molly Friedrich, Friedrich Agency.

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Nightcrawling
Nightcrawling
A novel
Leila Mottley
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