Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Book Review: "My Government Means to Kill Me" by Rasheed Newson

Rasheed Newson's debut novel is a moving, informative story of a young, gay Black man’s coming of age in 1980s New York City.

“…all great activists start off as young people who don’t really know what the hell they’re doing.”

Trey leaves his wealthy family in Indiana and turns his back on his trust fund and moves to New York City in the mid-1980s. He has very little money but refuses to compromise his values by hustling. He meets an interesting group of friends and explores his sexuality despite NYC being an epicenter of the AIDS epidemic.

After volunteering at a home hospice for those dying of AIDS, he gets pulled into the early days of ACT UP, an activist group trying to get the government to provide better support to those living with the disease. Along the way he tries to navigate his guilt about a childhood incident, deal with the demands of his family, and better understand the dynamics of sex and love.

This was a really good book that felt like a memoir. Trey is essentially dropped into an historical narrative and comes into contact with a number of individuals both key to the gay rights movement and those who caused trouble for it. Newson peppers the book with footnotes about different people and references in the book, and while many times I feel footnotes in books are distracting, these were really informative.

Having been a bit younger than Trey in the mid-1980s, I still vividly remember this time in history, and figuring out my sexuality a few years later was still as confusing, frightening, and complicated in the midst of uncertainty about AIDS. This was a fascinating story.

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