BookBrowse Reviews Let It Bang by RJ Young

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Read-Alikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Let It Bang

A Young Black Man's Reluctant Odyssey into Guns

by RJ Young

Let It Bang by RJ Young X
Let It Bang by RJ Young
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Oct 2018, 192 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Valerie Morales
Buy This Book

About this Book



R.J. Young fell in love twice - first with an Oklahoman named Lizzie and then with the guns her family cherished.

Every interracial love story is an exercise in complications. R.J. Young and Lizzie Stafford's love affair was anchored by the Second Amendment, and gun ownership, gun patriotism and racial triggers intersects at the perfect middle in Young's absorbing confessional, Let It Bang: A Young Black Man's Reluctant Odyssey With Guns. But as a history lesson, the memoir also normalizes an unconventional love.

Only 2% of Oklahoma marriages have black/white couplings. Young, a reflective and searingly honest writer who interprets the world around him with quiet ease, spends little time justifying or defending his interracial choice, almost as if it is a non-sequitur. Given the scope of his confession, it feels awkward that he spends little time on his marriage, particularly as he continually judges himself and the white community he is suddenly surrounded by. But the love story's moral arc is funneled through the man who would become R.J.'s father-in-law, Charles Stafford. Stafford's impact on Young is similar to a hero whose footsteps you wish you could match. The first time Charles and R.J. meet, Charles hands him a revolver. It is a quandry: what R.J. fears lining up a little too closely with what he desires.

I don't think he knew what it meant to hand me, a young black man, a revolver that Dirty Harry would be scared of. Once the feeling of fright dimmed, the absurdity of this hit me. To show me what a down brotha he was, the man wanted me to hold a pistol.

Writing about Lizzie as a fixture in his life and her father as his mentor skews slightly when Young explores his family of origin. His own father, so different from Charles, warned him about the police, to be afraid of them en masse. His grandmother was an activist in Mississippi, a cohort of the admired Fannie Lou Hamer and an executive secretary for the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Emotionless, Young weaves the binary tale of blacks and murder. 2,911 African Americans were lynched between 1890 and 1965.

The way R.J. Young writes his own story, which is to say the way he sees himself from a distance, paints him as the acceptable man of color, the exception. He is smart and reflective and has humor. He speaks and behaves in a manner white men don't find offensive, no racialized or angry clichés or hidden meanings. But symptomatic of being black in America, R.J. is angry. It is an anger whose intensity he tries to hide within his newfound gun infatuation. He compartmentalizes his racial trauma while trying to appear conforming and friendly. He is constantly, putting on and then taking off a mask. R.J. is uncomfortable in majority white spaces. He feels like an outsider rather than a surrogate for gun rights. But when he holds the Glock in his hand something in him is redeemed. It's less about guns being an equalizer and more about their seductive power. The Glock has such an umbilical hold, he spends an inordinate amount of time trying to load the bullets. Intuitively, you can almost feel the sweat dripping down his face as he becomes frustrated trying to shoot, not sideways like the stereotypical gangbanger in the late night flick, but shooting straight and hitting the target. It becomes his obsession.

In order to learn how to shoot better, he takes private lessons. Like a faucet dripping water one milliliter at a time, R.J. becomes immersed in gun culture norms. He wants us to know the difference between squeezing the trigger and pulling the trigger. He defines marksmanship and separates it from defensive shooting. He gives a primer for the uninitiated. But, frankly, it still leaves a question as to the why of guns? Why? Almost in a vacuum, R.J. mingles with Oklahomans at gun shows and within the NRA and is sensitized to white fear, not as a vulnerability but as insecurity and a racial fugue. The rhetoric disturbs him in the same way the election of Donald Trump disturbs him, as if he is constantly being asked to explain his line in the sand, which of course, nullifies his own black existence. Whites are afraid of black violence. Blacks are afraid of black violence. But white fear is fetishized and black fear is patronized.

There is a heartbreaking story R.J. recounts of being in a movie theater with his new wife Lizzie and being racially profiled by a sheriff before being allowed to take his seat. It's not particularly grotesque in its aesthetics, just ordinary run of the mill police harassment. But so extraordinary was the humiliation after so much time being in the company of, and, being coveted by, white faces, R.J. couldn't even sit in the theater.

This was not the first time the world had treated me and Lizzie differently. Perhaps if it was just the outside world and not her family too, my marriage would not have ended.

Nearing the end of his intensely personal story, his marriage woes feel like a parable, almost a warning to others who cross racial boundaries and chant the trope that love sees no color. Look, he seems to say. Look at what love does to you. It is reductive, like water erasing rock.Similarly, his affection and then gradual disinterest in the Glock he once adored feels like a cautionary tale. Love slips away. You better catch it before it disappears.

What Young has penned will disappoint many. It is not a partisan story about his own comeuppance in a white world. It is not a book preaching to Democrats or castigating Republicans about their gun porn. It doesn't wave the banner of Black Lives Matter as a matter of conscience. It refuses to drown the 2nd Amendment in moral snobbery nor does it let the liberal gun haters have the last word. It doesn't say much about interracial marriage other than the fact that R.J. had one. Simply, his story is about a negotiation. He loved a woman whose family fetishized and cherished guns. He tried to love guns for her sake and his. For a short time, the love affair with guns and Lizzie took hold of his heart and rendered ecstasy. And then he had to look in the mirror. He was still a black man in America.

Reviewed by Valerie Morales

This review first ran in the October 31, 2018 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Liberals Love Guns Too


Read-Alikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked Let It Bang, try these:

  • Blood Gun Money jacket

    Blood Gun Money

    by Ioan Grillo

    Published 2023

    About this book

    The gun control debate is revived with every mass shooting. But far more people die from gun deaths on the street corners of inner city America and across the border as Mexico's powerful cartels battle to control the drug trade.

  • Bloodbath Nation jacket

    Bloodbath Nation

    by Paul Auster

    Published 2023

    About this book

    More by this author

    An intimate and powerful rumination on American gun violence by Paul Auster, one of our greatest living writers and "genuine American original" (The Boston Globe), in an unforgettable collaboration with photographer Spencer Ostrander

We have 7 read-alikes for Let It Bang, but non-members are limited to two results. To see the complete list of this book's read-alikes, you need to be a member.
More books by RJ Young
Search read-alikes
How we choose read-alikes

Join BookBrowse

For a year of great reading
about exceptional books!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket
    Loved and Missed
    by Susie Boyt
    London-based author and theater director Susie Boyt has written seven novels and the PEN Ackerley ...
  • Book Jacket: Beyond the Door of No Return
    Beyond the Door of No Return
    by David Diop
    In early 19th-century France, Aglaé's father Michel Adanson dies of old age. Sitting at ...
  • Book Jacket: Crossings
    by Ben Goldfarb
    We've all seen it—a dead animal carcass on the side of the road, clearly mowed down by a car. ...
  • Book Jacket: Wifedom
    by Anna Funder
    When life became overwhelming for writer, wife, and mother Anna Funder in the summer of 2017, she ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
Fair Rosaline
by Natasha Solomons
A subversive, powerful untelling of Romeo and Juliet by New York Times bestselling author Natasha Solomons.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Wren, the Wren
    by Anne Enright

    An incandescent novel about the inheritance of trauma, wonder, and love across three generations of women.

  • Book Jacket

    Digging Stars
    by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma

    Blending drama and satire, Digging Stars probes the emotional universes of love, friendship, family, and nationhood.

Win This Book
Win Moscow X

25 Copies to Give Away!

A daring CIA operation threatens chaos in the Kremlin. But can Langley trust the Russian at its center?



Solve this clue:

A M I A Terrible T T W

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.