One thing I’ve been trying to do lately is read new black fiction. 12 of the 18 books I’ve read this year are by black authors, but I’ve been really interested in reading fiction by black authors that came out this year. I found out about Lakewood from combing through lists of New Black Fiction Coming Out in 2020 that I searched for on Google. The description seemed intriguing, so I decided to buy it. It turned out to be a haunting and thought-provoking story that I couldn’t stop reading. If you’re into thrillers, conspiracy theories, or basic human rights, this needs to be your next read.
Lakewood is the story of Lena Johnson, a 21-year-old living in Michigan whose grandmother has just passed away. She’s now responsible for taking care of her mother, who has very expensive medical bills and needs consistent care. As she searches for jobs, she comes across the Lakewood Project, which is a research study being conducted in a very small town a few hours away from where Lena lives. It promises great compensation and excellent healthcare, but it comes at a price. Lena gets a firsthand glimpse at how the government views the lives of the poor and marginalized people in the U.S., and has to decide whether money is worth her sanity.
Length: 271 pages
Additional Sections: None – one of my favorite things about new books
Year Published: 2020
The Good Stuff
Lakewood is exactly the type of conspiracy/Twilight Zone/Black Mirror stuff that I love. It takes about 40 to 50 pages to get into the exciting part of the story, but once it gets going it’s nearly impossible to put it down.
Even though most of this book is written in third person, I felt like I was experiencing everything with Lena. All the experiments and situations they put her in (I won’t give them away) were so fascinating to me. The idea that this could really be happening somewhere piqued my interest. Giddings did a great job of painting a picture of some bizarre stuff and getting us inside of Lena’s head as her mental state transformed throughout the duration of the experiments.
Lakewood aims to show how disposable black bodies and minds are for the sake of scientific exploration. Most of the subjects in the Lakewood Project are black, brown, old, or queer. The message wasn’t necessarily at the forefront the whole time, but as I read I realized that the acts were especially horrible to me because they were used on people who had no other options. Even though no one really wanted to be there anymore, everyone but their bodies and minds at risk because they needed the money and they felt like there was nothing else for them to do. Giddings did a great job of getting her message across seamlessly without interrupting the story to do so.
I loved how outlandish the experiments are. I’m not sure if they’re based on research that the author did about experiments that may have gone on in the past, but the stuff that they were doing was insane. Borderline unimaginable. And I was so into it. I like that Giddings pushed the boundaries and shared her imagination with us.
Usually I like when books tie everything up and don’t end stories with a bunch of unanswered questions, but I think the nebulous ending went well with this story. When you finish reading this book, there will be so much left to the imagination for you and for the characters themselves. I definitely felt the confusion and the sadness that Lena felt, and I thought the ending was appropriate.
I had a love/hate relationship with part two of the book. 75% of the book is covered in part one, and part two is made up of letters that Lena writes to one of her friends,Tanya. On one hand, I liked that it was in first person and that it was Lena’s account of the study. On the other hand, I didn’t like that it sped up so much of what happened at the end. I wouldn’t have minded the book being longer if it meant that the conclusion of the studies and the information Lena found out would’ve had more time to develop and make sense. I did like that the letters themselves were also a way of addressing Lena’s relationship with Tanya. She lost touch with a few people while she was away being studied, and I thought telling the end of the story through letters to Tanya was a smart way to reveal more about their friendship.
What I Would Change
Lena’s mom’s condition caused by her “accident” is referred to several times throughout the book. I couldn’t really understand why they didn’t just say what the accident was or what her mom’s condition was. It was clear that her condition inhibited her ability to work and function normally at times, but I didn’t see the purpose of keeping the condition and the “accident” a secret. It seemed like the accident occurred during a time in her life that she could remember (she has a spotty memory), but they never just come out and say what it is. I didn’t get it.
For me, it’s so important for a novel to be a page turner. My favorite novels are the ones that I couldn’t put down because the story was so engrossing. This story did eventually work its way to that point, but I wasn’t hooked in from the beginning. I think the setup for the experiment could’ve been written in a way that would’ve been more gripping from the beginning.
Overall, I think Megan Giddings put out an excellent book that would make such a cool movie. This is her first novel, and it was brilliant! I hope everyone goes out to support this book so that we can get more content from her.
Overall Rating: 9/10
I’ve been (im)patiently waiting to get the new Hunger Games book for about a week and a half now. I’m planning on going to get it today from UPS, so hopefully that will be the next review that I get up for you guys! If not, I’m reading The Defining Decade as I wait, so either way I’ll be back with another review soon. Thank you so much for reading!