"Yonder," Reviewed by Grace Kully
Journey through flowing language, vivid imagery, and shifting characterization with the author of A Taste of Honey, Jabari Asim, in his second novel, Yonder. Asim offers not a retelling of the enslaved experience, but exposure to the very realistic yet overlooked storytelling component of enslaved peoples’ lives. Language roots much of the story, with the enslaved narrators referring to themselves as “The Stolen” and to their owners as “Thieves,” even though their owners consider themselves “God’s Children.” The novel weaves a rarely offered perspective of the enslaved experience into mainstream media by looping storytelling components together seamlessly. The novel’s central idea is wrapped up beautifully when William, one of the Stolen, suggests that he and Cato, another Stolen, can weave their own narrative to tell as a form of rebellion against their Thief, Cannonball Greene. Yonder is about truly listening to the storytelling of the Stolen. In conversation with novels like Ta-Nehisi Coates’ The Water Dancer, Asim’s Yonder adds to a growing collection of gorgeously narrated perspectives that are necessary for understanding the United States' founding.
By the end of the novel, readers feel acquainted with Little Zander, Cato, William, Pandora, and Margaret, whose narratives play off of each other and bleed into one another, often overlapping or even contradicting each other in ways that add density to each character. Much like life, just when you think that you know a character, someone else’s perspective shifts your point of view. In these ways, Yonder is a multi-layered piece about the complexities of life and human nature, entangled with the history of the Atlantic slave trade. Above all, Asim aims to convince readers that love and emotions are felt by everyone, regardless of circumstance.
Throughout the novel, pay attention to the repetition of its title, and how it teaches us that something “yonder” can be both found and dreamed of in a variety of ways. Transcending both physicality and vitality, Yonder leans into the human experience, asking its characters to imagine a life outside of Placid Hill, the plantation where the Stolen are enslaved. The idea of what yonder is takes on many forms: escapism through childhood memories for Margaret and Pandora, visions of distant countries and Heaven for Little Zander, true love and advice from Ancestors for Cato and William, and above all, their collective desire for freedom. Travel to all of these places--both the real and the imagined, with this group of people who both don’t fit together yet are bonded in undeniable ways. Even through moments where the narrative may become too fantastical or too heavily romanticized, the novel will keep readers entrenched in the emotions and stories of these characters. Both their individual desires and interweaving lives drive the novel and its readers forward--one might even say yonder--to feel touched by a world and its people that one cannot easily forget.
Simon & Schuster
Grace Kully is an English major at Villanova University from Hopewell Township, NJ. She focuses her academic and personal work on disability social justice and hopes to intertwine this with her writing and editing. In her free time, Grace enjoys listening to music, cooking, reading, photography, and traveling.