ARC Review: The Perishing by Natashia Deón

Summary: Lou, a young Black woman, wakes up in an alley in 1930s Los Angeles, nearly naked and with no memory of how she got there or where she’s from. Lou dedicates herself to her education while trying to put her mysterious origins behind her. She’ll go on to become the first Black female journalist at the Los Angeles Times. When she befriends a firefighter, Lou is shocked to realize that though she has no memory of ever meeting him she’s been drawing his face since her days in foster care.

Increasingly certain that their paths have previously crossed, Lou begins to believe she may be an immortal sent to this place and time for a very important reason. Lou sets out to investigate the mystery of her existence and make sense of the jumble of lifetimes calling to her from throughout the ages before her time runs out for good.

Genre: historical fiction, science fiction
Rating: ★★

This was such a difficult read. The cover and premise of The Perishing drew me in immediately, and I had extremely high hopes for a story that defines itself as speculative fiction. Instead, it felt incredibly dry at times, and the concepts weren’t executed the way I hoped they would be.

The story is told in alternating chapters: the perspective of a woman named Sarah roughly 100 years into the future, who is on trial for killing a man. The details of this story arc are never fully fleshed out, and instead Sarah’s chapters are often filled with romantic prose and eloquent lessons about life. I adored the writing here, but I felt such a heavy disconnect from Sarah. I hoped the storylines would cross more, or we would get more insight into Lou’s immortality. It’s evident from early on that Sarah is Lou, just existing in a different time with another name and face. The summary of the story suggests Lou figures out she’s immortal, which is true, but the reader knows this well before Lou does because of Sarah’s chapters. Sarah’s chapters wind up feeling like a waste as a result.

The second POV is through Lou, who mysteriously wakes up on a beach one day and is thrown into the whirlwind of LA in the 30s. At times, this book felt like a textbook with an info dump of all the events that took place during that time, and yet I never once felt like the story truly took place in the 30s in LA. It was like the author wanted to drive the point home, so she included grand events that took place during that timeframe, but Lou simply writes about them as a journalist rather than lives through them. Similarly to Sarah’s chapters, there was such a huge disconnect here.

Lou is a fascinating character, but because of how dry the story is, I eventually stopped caring about her. I wanted so badly to learn about her immortality, and instead the book was bogged down by her everyday life, often going off on tangents about pandemics, wearing masks and getting vaccinated, and Black Lives Matter. Even as someone who agrees and cares strongly about those topics, it felt out of place in a story set in this timeline. Did those things exist in the 30s? Yes, but it felt overbearing, came off as a lecture, and that the author was intentionally finding connections to present day to let the reader know they’re important. The author should be able to write in a way that lets the reader draw their own connections to present day; it shouldn’t be so blatantly shoved down the reader’s throat.

When the story wasn’t bogged down by lectures and info dumps, it was mostly about Lou’s everyday life. I kept waiting for the part where she met the mysterious man she’d been drawing and dreaming about, but it took over half of the book to even get to that point! When they finally did meet, I was hoping there would be some heavy romance and the plot would finally pick up, but instead he just existed to kick the idea into Lou’s head that maybe she’s immortal, and she mostly continued on with her regular life.

The last 50 pages are when the story truly picks up and we learn more about Lou’s immortality. However, because it’s so late in the story, it doesn’t have time to be fully fleshed out or explained. We’re left with more questions than answers by the time the book is finished, which was so disappointing. The summary says Lou is put here for an important reason, but there’s really no explanation for why she is, and she did very little investigating about her origins. Ultimately what disappointed me about this book was how far off it was from the summary, which had such promise.

This could have been an incredible, groundbreaking story about a Black woman in the 1930s who discovers she’s immortal, but instead it was a disaster of too many incomplete concepts, ultimately causing it to fall flat.

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