Chicago is a loaded word for many people. It comes up the most in the media when people discuss the latest mass shooting in the US.
“But what about Chicago?”
But what about Chicago? And who is going to talk about the real problems in the city, namely the segregation and all of its ramifications? No one in the media seems to either understand this or want to take it on.
Gabriel Bump, in his debut novel, Everywhere You Don’t Belong (Algonquin Books, 2020) presents a Chicago little seen in the media. Claude McKay Love is a teenager born and raised in South Shore, an area that was predominantly Jewish fifty years ago. Claude has experienced loss after loss. His parents leave him with his grandmother and a family friend when he’s just five years old. And each time he makes a close friend, the friend and his family move away to escape the violence of the area.
Bump shows how South Shore became violent and that there’s one main reason for it: segregation and everything toxic that comes with it. Police violence is a huge issue all over the country, but it’s become exacerbated in Chicago and Bump shows this in a key scene when Claude is still in high school.
Claude leaves South Shore and his closest friend–on again, off again girlfriend, Janice–for a journalism program at the University of Missouri, which incidentally is the state where his parents settled after they left him back in Chicago.
One of my favorite characters is Paul, an aging ex-Black Panther and talented photographer who lives with Claude’s grandmother.
I’d seen pictures like that during Black History Month. Young Paul stood behind a man screaming over a podium. Everybody had fists raised. Most of them were wearing sunglasses and Afros. Paul was slim, muscular, smiling. He was smiling wide. He wasn’t wearing glasses. His smiling eyes shone under his space-black shrublike hair.
Paul has experienced one personal heartache after another and has turned to alcohol to numb his pain. He is gay and has horrible luck maintaining relationships for reasons that usually have nothing to do with him. Despite these relationship troubles, or maybe because of them, Paul has always been a steadying presence for Claude and his grandma, going back years before Claude was born.
Bump is a brilliant storyteller and gives readers much to think about, all while keeping us on the edge of our seats with the drama unfolding on each page. I can’t wait to read what’s next from Gabriel Bump.