One mistake tarnishes a young life.
TAGS: Cole Riley, Strebor Books, African American juvenile imprisonment, rape, basketball
Though it may seem as if he’s fairly new to mainstream publishing, Cole Riley has a body of urban fiction that stretches back into the 1990s. His most recent book, Little White Lies, tells the story of Melvin, a 17-year-old high school basketball star whose future seems predestined for greatness. But all isn’t golden for the team’s golden boy. His personal and home life is dysfunctional at best, and the pressures of being his family’s chosen one are starting to weigh on him. In turn, Melvin follows the wrong crowd down a dark path that leads to a drugged-- and barely coherent--Melvin bearing witness to a brutal rape, during a wild night gone bad. However, when the crime comes to light, it’s Melvin being named as the ringleader and mastermind. His hoop dreams shattered, Melvin must now contend with this new reality and try to clear his name.
The premise of the story is an interesting one, especially given the current climate and discussion about the worth of young black men in our society. In fact, the author dedicates the book to Emmett Till, Sean Beal and Trayvon Martin, who became martyrs and symbols for how little young black life is valued. With Melvin, Riley has a conduit to not only explore the psyche of young black youth, but to also indict a justice system where African-Americans are presumed guilty until proven innocent. Unfortunately, the opportunity is squandered here.
Many of the characters in the novel, with the exception of protagonist Melvin, are presented as caricatures instead of people. Melvin’s overbearing father becomes an irredeemable bully; promiscuous teenage girls become porn stars in training; and local hoodlums become sadistic monsters. Clichéd and outrageous characters aside, the book’s most fatal flaw is in its pacing. Though it would seem that the rape and subsequent trial would be part of the book’s main focus, more than a third of the novel passes before these major developments occur. What the reader gets instead is a lot of backstory that, while somewhat helpful in revealing Melvin’s character, ultimately introduces a lot of characters and threads that are unnecessary to the plot development. This also means that the rape; Melvin’s arrest; his trial; and the aftermath are forced to play out in a little over a hundred pages. Thus, events that should be elaborated upon, like Melvin’s discussions with his lawyer, surprising developments in the trial, aspects of Melvin’s life in lock-up, and even an unexpected death are glossed over in a few sentences or paragraphs, without much elaboration.
Based on its premise, Little White Lies had the potential to be an eye-opening and insightful exploration into how one false move can tarnish a young black man’s life. While Cole Riley’s effort here is appreciated, the author’s execution comes up short.
Donte Gibson is a writer and editor who currently resides in Brooklyn, NY. He has written for Inc. magazine and the Black Web Media's Young Black Professional Guide, and for the websites Okayplayer, Black Web 2.0, and Politic 365. Currently, he serves as Senior Editor for the music and culture website SoulBounce.