Darnella Ford has done it again. With her unique writing style that is conversational yet somehow lyrical, she draws readers in and does not let go until the final page. Her storylines are often simplistic in nature, but her characters are flawed and somewhat complex. Ford, the author of two previous novels, Rising and Crave, has crafted another literary jewel in Choke, her latest work.
In this novel we meet Vanessa, a single mother who is barely making ends meet in El Mirage, Arizona, a desolate town in the middle of the desert. Recently divorced, Vanessa’s primary concern is her twelve-year-old daughter, Kennedy, a gifted pianist. Vanessa is determined to help her daughter realize her dreams of going to a renowned school of performing arts. However, those dreams seem as far away as Mars. After all, they are living in a roach-infested, one-bedroom Section Eight apartment.
Vanessa is “choking” on life as she witnesses a murder, deals with a dead-end job, and desperately tries to remember a cookie recipe that she is sure will make her famous. She’s also struggling to get her ex-husband out of her system, which proves to be difficult because she always falls for his sexual advances.
While dealing with the crazy issues that make up her life, she meets her interesting next-door neighbors, who have issues of their own. Yolie is a beautiful Latina with a daughter who has special needs. Anese is white but sports cornrows and has a glide in her stride that doesn’t “quite fit her own culture.” The trio forge a friendship that can only be defined as needed for all parties involved.
All three have dreams of moving away and living better. So when a not-so-wholesome money-making opportunity presents itself, Yolie and Anese jump at the chance. Vanessa refuses and continues to work at the job she hates - that is until she suddenly finds herself unemployed.
When her daughter auditions for the highly regarded but expensive performing arts school and plays amazingly, Vanessa has to decide what she will sacrifice in order for her only child to attain her dreams.
Although the ending to Choke is somewhat predictable, it is nonetheless powerful. This reviewer enjoyed going along for Vanessa's, unique, gritty, heart-wrenching journey. She is definitely a protagonist readers will sympathize with, cheer for and remember well after closing the book. This novel features colorful characters with relatable issues and delivers strong messages. If you’re looking for a contemporary tale that is candid and captivating, pick this one up. It won’t disappoint.