Monday, July 3, 2017

Review: Reenu-You by Michele Tracy Berger

Published: 2 May 2017 

Publisher: Book Smugglers Publishing

Category: Post-Apocalyptic, Women's Fiction, African American

"New York City, August 1998. On a muggy summer day, five women wake up to discover purple scab-like lesions on their faces—a rash that pulses, oozes, and spreads in spiral patterns. City clinic doctors dismiss the women’s fears as common dermatitis, a regular skin rash. But as more women show up with the symptoms, one clear correlation emerges: an all-natural, first-of-its-kind hair relaxer called Reenu-You.

As the outbreak spreads, and cases of new rashes pop up in black and latino communities throughout New York, panic and anger also grows. When the malady begins to kill, medical providers and the corporation behind the so-called hair tonic face charges of conspiracy and coercion from outraged minority communities and leaders across the country.

At the heart of the epidemic are these five original women; each from different walks of life. As the world crumbles around them, they will discover more about each other, about themselves, and draw strength to face the future together."

Rating: 4 Stars

Hair is a complicated topic, especially if your hair isn't naturally long and straight and pliable. You know: white.

That's why the women in this story relax their hair, with the newest wonder-product on the market: Reenu-You. The product is touted as all natural, so pure you could even eat it. Of course, it's not all it's made out to be.

Pulling from a wide range of tropes of science fiction, Berger has written a compelling story full of conspiracy and danger.

Five women who all used the product and had horrifying side effects are drawn together in ways they themselves don't fully understand. The story was political commentary, a cautionary tale, an exploration of women's friendship, and an apocalyptic infection story, among other things.

Berger uses the playground of this speculative tale to explore and consider issues of race, gender, age, class, urbanity, and so much more, yet it doesn't feel preachy or pedantic. You just find yourself thinking and considering while you're quickly turning the pages to find out what will happen next.

The novella read very quickly, pulling me along with my curiosity to understand what was going on with this product and its effects on the group of women the story follows. I was left feeling a little lost at the end, when the mystery is not fully resolved. I did wish for at least a little more resolution, even while part of me felt that an open ending might be the right one for the story. There's definitely room for the story to go further.

This novella is part of Book Smugglers' Novella Initiative, which will include several other novellas running the gamut of speculative fiction. After reading this one, I'm excited to try out some of the others. 

Review by Samantha Bryant, another bookish fangirl. You can learn more about her and her work at

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