Publisher/Date: Bold Strokes Books; Mar. 2016
Genre(s): Activism, Romance
When Toya meets Folami and joins the activist collective RiseUP!, she thinks she’s found her life’s purpose. Folami’s sensuality and her passion for social justice leave Toya feeling that, at last, she’s met someone she can share all parts of her life with. But when a controversial police shooting blurs the lines between the personal and the political, Toya is forced to examine her identity, her passions, and her allegiances.
Folami, a mature and dedicated activist, challenges Toya’s commitment to the struggle while threatening to pull her back into the closet to maintain the intense connection they share. How ever, Nina, a young, free-spirited artist, invites Toya to explore the intersections between sexual and political freedom.
With the mounting tensions and social unrest threatening to tear the community apart, can Toya find a safe place to live and love while working to uplift her people?
A RETURN TO ARMS by Sheree L. Greer is one of those books I found hard to review, because it was difficult to find words for how powerful her story and the message are. While her book is fiction, it’s grounded in the reality of what we see on the daily news, what we read on Twitter, and alas, what we see in our streets: black people fighting for their lives.
But wading through this turmoil for justice are Toya, and her lover, Folami, who share intimacy as lovers, but find themselves on opposite ends of the bed over what version of leadership one must abide by to further the cause. Both work at RiseUP!, an organization that promotes protection and empowerment against police brutality, and Toya and Folami labor to ensure that their actions and voices are heard above the fray.
Within RiseUP!, like any dedicated group working in the trenches, the politics and viewpoints are lit like fuses. Toya all too often sees the writing on the wall, as her black lesbianism is a source of contention despite her dedication. It’s tricky enough evading minefields with the enemies at large, but to deal with it from your own people, the ones side-by-side with you during protests, it’s enough to make Toya re-think her involvement.
The tone of this book is somber, indeed. Each chapter in A Return to Arms has this almost foreboding quality, while raising issues of self-sacrifice and intersectionality in a way that shows that Greer’s endless talent to tell a story and put us in the moment. Her book also gives much food for thought: the battle between being black and gay; the effectiveness of marches and rallies vs. simply shutting shit down; and being sick and tired of never receiving justice for our loved ones.
Romance is in the mix, but not so much that it takes away from the bigger theme at work here. Folami’s interactions with Toya are frustrating as hell, but I can understand her reasons for it. What makes up for it is the fire they possess – both for the cause and for each other – that intertwine so well. It reads like sex.
Sunlight set profiles aglow in amber and crimson; bodies contorted with passion and protest – clenched fists and tight jaws, arched back and strained necks.
And that ending? I wasn’t prepared. This was the response I shared on goodreads when I finished.
Sheree, you did it again. I just wish this story wasn’t our reality. But alas…
Reviewed June 2016