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Reviews of We Are a Haunting by Tyriek White

We Are a Haunting

A Novel

by Tyriek White

We Are a Haunting by Tyriek White X
We Are a Haunting by Tyriek White
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2023, 272 pages

    Apr 2024, 272 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Valerie Morales
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About this Book

Book Summary

A poignant debut for readers of Jesmyn Ward and Jamel Brinkley, We Are a Haunting follows three generations of a working class family and their inherited ghosts: a story of hope and transformation.

In 1980s Brooklyn, Key is enchanted with her world, glowing with her dreams. A charming and tender doula serving the Black women of her East New York neighborhood, she lives, like her mother, among the departed and learns to speak to and for them. Her untimely death leaves behind her mother Audrey, who is on the verge of losing the public housing apartment they once shared. Colly, Key's grieving son, soon learns that he too has inherited this sacred gift and begins to slip into the liminal space between the living and the dead on his journey to self-realization.

In the present, an expulsion from school forces Colly across town where, feeling increasingly detached and disenchanted with the condition of his community, he begins to realize that he must, ultimately, be accountable to the place he is from. After college, having forged an understanding of friendship, kinship, community, and how to foster love in places where it seems impossible, Colly returns to East New York to work toward addressing structural neglect and the crumbling blocks of New York City public housing he was born to; discovering a collective path forward from the wreckages of the past.

A supernatural family saga, a searing social critique, and a lyrical and potent account of displaced lives, We Are a Haunting unravels the threads connecting the past, present, and future, and depicts the palpable, breathing essence of the neglected corridors of a pulsing city with pathos and poise.

To what end does one conjure the ghost of slavery, if not to incite the hopes of transforming the present?


One day, I fell backward into a scar in the world, a fall sudden and lasting. A portal took me whole, sent me traveling across a pulse that could split me down the middle. I tumbled out the other side, a terrible moaning like a hive of meat bees.

I had been pedaling down the block on an unkempt length of road on Flatlands, barreling ahead, ripping along twisted storefronts and storage lots. the smell of hot metal filled the air, lodged itself at the back of my tongue and burned as I tried to catch my breath. I had reached the Belt Parkway and the creek widened, blooming into the bay and into the Atlantic, the dark basin, murky with trash and wildlife, boats twinkling in the distance. the water emptied into a reservoir where it was drained and then treated. there were heating and waste stations, chimneys that gagged out heavy smoke and stray embers ...

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Of the three timelines that saturate the story — 1988 when Key begins her career as a doula, 2007 when Key dies, and 2016 when college-educated Colly returns to the city that raised him — I was especially fascinated by the late 80s, when AIDS is rampant in New York and Key, in her caretaking role, shows tireless stewardship for the pregnant and vulnerable. She thrives in this role while also making note of how it is part of the history she comes from to soothe the discriminated-against helpless: "We have been just like this for centuries, boiling water, laying out rags, soothing a young girl with coos and whispers, all the while at the helm of a war being waged against their existence."..continued

Full Review Members Only (767 words)

(Reviewed by Valerie Morales).

Media Reviews

This is a stunningly original and beautiful novel of devotion, a book that gives and gives as it asks us what it means to be part of a family, of a community. Early novels like this don't come around very often; this one brings to mind titles like Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon and Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine. It's an absolute triumph.

Foreword Reviews (starred review)
The multivoiced novel develops each wounded person in terms of their connections to the city. Their stories are linked by rhapsodic longing ... There are vigorous details from their lives that evoke deep understanding of their problems. And as Colly is tender in recalling Key in the midst of his own experiences; his bereavement is indelible, and it overlays the book's cityscapes, both rending and buoying him. ... A Black family's history becomes a salve for its wandering son in the potent novel We Are a Haunting.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Poignant and poetic ... Each character is acutely aware of the weight of their forebears, which White uses to effectively tell a story that is both intimate and sweeping ... White works wonders with this inspired story of grief and the struggle for hope

Kirkus Reviews
We Are a Haunting's wide-ranging, multivocal, quick-shifting style—which incorporates frequent allusions to literature and visual art, brand names and the neighborhood prestige attached to them, and a mixtape element—serves admirably to emphasize the book's ambition, which is to capture and to celebrate not just these characters, this family, but the community and the city they emerge from, serve, and love. An intelligent, gritty, discursive group portrait of working-class New York from the 1980s to now.

Author Blurb Jacqueline Woodson, MacArthur Fellow and author of Another Brooklyn
What a beautiful, haunting and hued narrative of American living. I'm in love with this story and the way Tyriek White breathes life into these characters.

Author Blurb Kiese Laymon, MacArthur Fellow and author of the NAACP Image Award winner Long Division
Tyriek White did not come to play. He is doing something for New York narratives I've never seen, and really never imagined. This novel is so New York—so, so New York—yet so deeply southern on lower frequencies. It's astonishing.

Author Blurb Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, author of Friday Black and Chain-Gang All-Stars
This is the city. This is beauty, this is harshness. With this magnificent debut Tyriek White emerges as a seer and necessary voice.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The Importance of Doulas Today

Black-and-white photo of a pregnant woman's body in profile, showing hands on belly Despite its original ancient Greek definition of "a woman who serves," the word "doula" has come to mean "one who mothers the mother." In caring for mothers and their newborns, doulas advocate, listen, advise and comfort. They are professionally trained to provide emotional and informational support during pregnancy and labor as well as after birth, sometimes specializing in one of these periods. Doulas also manage anxiety, depression and fear.

In earlier generations in many parts of the world, women were not part of the workforce. When a new mother came home with her baby, or when she delivered the baby at home, she was typically cared for by her own mother, and perhaps her sister and a couple of aunties, who helped her manage the ...

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