“Beach read” as a book descriptor feels ubiquitous these days, especially as warm summer months descend upon us, practically begging for trips to far-flung tropics (though many of us remain glued to our work laptops). Akwaeke Emezi’s latest novel appears to be a natural fit for such a category: a fun, flirty romance set on an unnamed tropical island. And yet, You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty transcends the shallow tide pools of a typical entry in the genre and dives into deeper, perhaps more treacherous, waters. Emezi takes us on the literal and emotional journey of Feyi Adekola, a woman still reeling from the tragic death of her husband, Jonah. In the vein of Helen Hoang’s The Heart Principle from last year, this novel reminds us that messy grief and complex love can be two sides of the same coin.
“Messy” and “complex” are actually apt descriptions of You Made a Trick of Death with Your Elegance , which follows Feyi—a bisexual Black woman through New York—as she joins Nasir, a platonic-ish new male friend (they’ve kissed and flirted) on a lavish vacation to his father’s mansion on a tropical oasis. In the aftermath of losing her husband five years before, Feyi has moved back to Brooklyn to live with the girl best friend (a fellow Black queer woman named Joy who brings a surplus of levity to the novel), has dyed her braids every color of the rainbow, and owns an art studio that allows her the freedom to create pieces forged from her trauma. Now Feyi plans to embark on what could be billed her first “hot girl summer” since her tragic loss. She’s not looking for anything serious, just to dip her toes back into the pool associated with intimacy she’s avoided in her sadness. Feyi has crafted a completely new life for herself, but romantic closeness of any kind remains missing.
“She couldn’t remember the last time someone had been content to just kiss her desperately and then lie in bed breathing each other’s air. No—that was a lie. Jonah was the last time…. She didn’t want to talk about how it felt to try to learn how to be safe with someone who wasn’t the particular dead love of her life. ”
Windows like this into Feyi’s naked inner turmoil are constant; the intertwining of her guilt, lust, sadness, and love splashed onto the page in a gut-twisting reflection of our own, as the reader. For many of us, the summer of 2022 feels like emerging from a period of deep grief and isolation on a mission to remember how to feel alive again. This is where Emezi’s writing truly shines: its ability to grip complex emotions and situations and shape them like warm putty into something the reader can, if not relate to, at least understand and empathize with.
This is most true of the perhaps polarizing romance at the heart of You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty. When Feyi and Nasir arrive on the island, they’re warmly welcomed by his father, Alim Blake, the celebrity chef 19 years Feyi’s senior. She is immediately struck by her attraction to him, which she tries and fails to bury within her. Though a debut romance writer, Emezi clearly understands the importance of a slow burn as Feyi plus Alim circle each other, trying not to get caught in the other’s dangerous riptide. It’s an unconventional romance, but one that Emezi portrays with excruciating care. Amir and Feyi bond over their many similarities: the loss of a partner, their bisexuality, their love of art. Emezi gives us time to warm up to this attraction and see it with regard to what it is: messy, complicated, and—for better or worse—brutally real.
After their own first kiss, Alim boldly asks Feyi what it meant to her. Before she may respond, he emphasizes his need for honesty: “And please, I only ask one thing—don’t lie to me. I will hold anything you tell me with care, just let it be the truth. ” This is perhaps the striking difference between You Made a Fool of Death together with your Beauty and many other modern romances: There is no miscommunication for the sake of plot here. Feyi and Alim carefully hold each decision, each kiss, in their hands with careful inspection. Emezi allows our trust in these characters to grow alongside their trust in each other, making the romance feel that much more sweet—and that much more fragile. And fragile it is, since the complications of real life stand in their way. There’s Alim’s disapproving children, Feyi’s life back in Brooklyn, plus their past tragedies threatening to drown the spark they’ve ignited.
Despite the heaviness at the novel’s core, it is nevertheless an ideal beach read. The lush tropical setting of Alim’s home reads like something out of an HGTV dream home series, complete with infinity pools, a sunrise backyard hike, and two kitchens worthy of a celebrity chef. Emezi’s descriptions of Alim’s cooking throughout the novel will leave your mouth watering—and that’s not even including mention of a certain steamy scene involving the fingerful of gastronomical mango foam. There’s also Pleasure, Feyi’s best friend, who pops in from time to time via text or FaceTime with hilarious quips and the occasional genuine advice. “You’re never ready for shit, Feyi, ” Joy muses. “Just jump within the deep end already and figure out if you remember how to swim. ”
Emezi walks a delicate tightrope between summer romance and reflective literary fiction, but it’s 1 they navigate with impeccable balance. It’s tender plus unafraid to burrow into the darker parts of love, the places we seldom wish to revisit, especially after trauma and loss. You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty asks us to sit in the mess, the sadness, the tumultuous waves of real life, and examine what has been forged by this reckoning. Can love and joy blossom where grief has already planted its deep-set roots?
Whether you’re turning its pages with the ocean in front of you or not, You Made a Trick of Death with Your Elegance captures the summer sentiment of embracing every moment for what it is. Like Feyi, our very existences hinge on life-changing seconds, both world-opening and world-shattering. It’s up to you whether you’ll dive into the deep end or remain on the shore.
Kirby Beaton is a writer, strategist, and book reviewer at BuzzFeed. She also talks all things books within her newsletter, Booked It for You .
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