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My Name Is Venus Black


My Name Is Venus Black

From debut author Heather Lloyd comes MY NAME IS VENUS BLACK, a page-turning journey through murder, tragedy and all the woes of coming of age, and learning that there is a huge gray area between right and wrong.

Venus Black is an ambitious, straight-A student whose interests include astronomy and caring for her developmentally challenged younger brother, Leo. She is also a murderer. When we first meet Venus, few details about her life are revealed to us except that she has just killed her stepfather, and no one, not even she, is sure why. She will not speak to police, media reporters or therapists, except to blame her mother, Inez, who she calls by her first name.

In a cadenced and generously hopeful style, readers watch as a 13-year-old girl is run through the gauntlet that is the United States judicial system. Her shock at having done something so terrible is only outweighed by her horror at having to serve time for her crime. She knows she has done something wrong, but given her previously spotless record, the notion of punishment is foreign to her. In alternating chapters, readers meet Leo, who is on the spectrum. In the days following Venus’ arrest, Leo goes to stay with a friend of his mother’s. In brisk but highly descriptive vignettes, we see the world through Leo’s eyes --- how some shirts can be the “wrong” blue and how a simple brush of the arm can be overwhelmingly horrifying.

Then the unimaginable happens: Leo is kidnapped. Forced to grapple with the news behind bars, Venus becomes distraught and buckles down, ready to get through her sentence as quickly and quietly as possible so that she may find Leo again.

"Readers of INFINITE HOME and KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST will love this timely novel about survivors whose lives were ripped apart by secrecy and violence and the ragtag cast of characters they encounter as they heal and grow."

More than five years later, Venus is released, now a woman of 19. She remains estranged from Inez and is desperate to avoid journalists who have been gearing up for her release for years. Using a fake identity, Venus gets a fresh start in Seattle, where she begins to form connections with new people, including Piper, a young girl who seems to reflect the childhood Venus gave up so many years ago. As Venus starts to put down roots, old traumas quickly resurface, drawing up new questions about right and wrong, and forgiveness and redemption. Unfortunately for her, it seems that the only way to truly bury the past is to work through it, and that means confronting the reasons for her crime.

Although Leo has been kidnapped, Lloyd does not let him drop from the narrative, and we continue to see the world through his eyes --- including the identity of his kidnapper and the kind souls he encounters through them. Lloyd does a stellar job of writing through Leo’s eyes without ever seeming voyeuristic or gratuitous. She respects Leo’s views and celebrates them while still providing soft humor in the moments that his understanding of events does not match our own.

It is in these chapters that another character, Tessa, is introduced. In many ways, she is the mirror image of Venus, sans the criminal activity. Tessa was one of my favorite parts of MY NAME IS VENUS BLACK, and her love of Leo, which sprang not from blood but from an inherent sense of compassion, brought me to tears on multiple occasions. Tessa provides some much-needed lightness to the narrative, and I believe many readers will be drawn to her instantly.

As Venus attempts to work through her trauma, she also comes closer than ever to finding Leo --- and reconciling with Inez. But how can you reconcile with a mother you still blame for your years behind bars? And what really happened on the night that Venus’ stepfather was murdered? Lloyd maintains a perfect level of suspense throughout the book, and trust me when I say that you’ll definitely want to read along to find out the truth.

In stories involving children and complicated scenarios, it is often the children who have the most clear-cut version of events --- and the most heartbreakingly obvious realizations about what has happened and what must happen. MY NAME IS VENUS BLACK displays this theme perfectly through the eyes of Venus, Leo, Piper and Tessa. It is Venus’ story, true, but Lloyd treats her other characters with a great deal of respect and a generous, but not overbearing, sense of hope. While this story alone may not appeal to all readers, I trust that everyone will find something to love in Lloyd’s compassionate attention to detail when it comes to her characters and their actions. This is the sort of book that you will want to discuss for days after reading it, and it will inspire some terrific conversations about parental responsibility, the judicial system and the rights of families.

Readers of INFINITE HOME and KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST will love this timely novel about survivors whose lives were ripped apart by secrecy and violence and the ragtag cast of characters they encounter as they heal and grow. Lloyd is an imaginative, risk-taking storyteller, and I look forward to meeting the characters she introduces in her next book.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on March 9, 2018

My Name Is Venus Black
by Heather Lloyd

  • Publication Date: February 27, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: The Dial Press
  • ISBN-10: 0399592180
  • ISBN-13: 9780399592188