“Speak No Evil” by Uzodinma Iweala focuses on a Nigerian-American teenager who feels like he can’t truly be himself and, as he confides in his white female friend, he lets his guard down, which leads to the consequences he always feared.
Niru is a Harvard-bound track runner at a private high school in Washington, D.C. area. He’s also from a religious Christian Nigerian family where he’s expected to be a doctor like his older brother, OJ. But Niru harbors a secret: he thinks he’s gay. He realizes he never likes when the white boys at school reference girls in sexual terms. One snowy night, he tells his best friend, Meredith, that he’s gay after they try to make out. Meredith says she’ll keep his secret, but she downloads gay dating apps on Niru’s phone and sets up his profiles to receive messages from men. Later that week, Niru loses his phone, but it turns up in his father’s hands. His father notices the app notifications and alerts Niru’s mother about his behavior. Though Niru never sent any messages, he’s still sent to his local pastor and to one in Nigeria to help him cleanse his mind of what his father says is sinful behavior. As Niru adjusts to being home and going to school again, he tries to mend his relationship with Meredith while still fighting his sexual urges. He finally can’t take it anymore and wants to live the way he wants to, but it comes at a price.
The story really focuses on how Niru is not comfortable being himself because he’s a black male in America. He’s hyperaware of how he should act around his peers because most are from historically rich white families while he has immigrant parents who found fortune in America. He believes he’s gay and undergoes pastor counseling on two continents that can be seen as gay conversion therapy. This emotionally tears him apart because he’s struggling with feelings that are natural to him. He has a fear throughout the book that if he admits he’s gay, there will be consequences. And though there are consequences, they’re not the ones the reader expects. The unexpected ending is surprising yet maybe it should’ve been expected with how the story progresses. It’s a smoothly developed story, but one of the things that may make it seem slow is the way the author doesn’t separate quotes. He weaves them into the stream of consciousness where you’re reading blocks of words that seem never-ending, like works by Alice Walker, for example. Other than how the words are displayed, the story handles so many themes that so many young black men are dealing with.