Published by William Morrow on February 17th 2015
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When D’aron Davenport chooses to leave the small, Dixie-loving town of Braggsville, Georgia for his freshman year at UC Berkeley, he imagines the world will open up before him. Instead, he finds himself thrown into a hyper-sensitive landscape where people jump to answer questions he never thought to ask. D’aron eventually finds solace in a group of friends, dubbed the “4 Little Indians”, who bring him comfort and challenge him in equal measure. But that comfort is shaken when D’aron brings the group to Braggsville to protest its annual Civil War reenactment.
“They all wondered, he knew, especially hearing his Friday-night accent, you—fermented—becoming a long y’all, and ain’t rearing it’s ugly head before, worse yet, being distilled into ‘ant. He could reckon the direction of the wheels turning in their heads: budget cuts plus more out-of-state fart-sniffer students equals lower standards. They were wrong, and if they dared ask, he’d say so. Unlike some of them, he’d done it on his own.”
At the start of the novel, Johnson’s words flow in slam poetry waves that beg to be read aloud. Though he eventually settles into a more traditional narrative voice, the poetic, abstract roots regularly reappear and give Welcome to Braggsville its distinct style; one which may not appeal to all readers. Fortunately, the novel’s merit goes well beyond the order of words on the page to make it a rare blend of style and substance.
Though it sounds like a book aimed squarely at taking down the long history of racism in the South, nothing is safe from Welcome to Braggsville’s biting satire. Political correctness, social media and Berkeley’s outlandish liberalism are mocked and held under a microscope alongside Braggsville’s close-minded residents. Fiercely funny, sad and incredibly timely, Welcome to Braggsville will have readers with solid, long-held beliefs tilting their heads and looking closer.