My knee-jerk reaction to Lyric and Blake is disappointment that it is only a novella. My feelings are out of place, I know, as I’m not even a lucky member of this novella’s target audience. But I also can’t imagine a queer or questioning thirteen year-old girl who wouldn’t want more time with Lyric and Blake, wouldn’t need more time with this self-assured duo, their imperfect but well-intentioned mamas, and the “automatons” of Alcorn Junior High who both antagonize the duo and throw the beauty and strength of their friendship into sharp relief. Lyric and Blake reads like a daydream, a Black feminist, queer futurist musing on a scenario rendered impossible by time, space, and the many oppressions that threaten us all (we who were never meant to survive[i]): what if Audre Lorde and June Jordan had met in the seventh grade? What world could they have made together if their girlhoods had not been marked by isolation and the cruelty of adults? And although Lyric and Blake are not Audre and June, they are the “ones we’ve been waiting for[ii],” the girls they must have dreamed of as they did their work in the world. But I jump ahead of myself, as I am want to do when I project all of my hopes for a more livable life onto the metaphor of girlhood. In such a dream space, I miss the basics: that Kionne Nicole has composed snapshots of the seventh grade as seen through the eyes of Astin “Lyric” Boyd, a gender nonconforming pre-teen who is uncannily adept at coping with anxiety. Lyric has chosen Alcorn, a predominantly Black public school, over “The Ivy League,” a private school that she attended last year. It is here that she finds Blake, a best friend and ally against middle school cliques that ridicule their androgyny and find all manner of ways to throw jabs. What is clear from beginning to end is that Lyric prefers Black “phobics” to white faux-liberals, and this preference is at odds with her mother’s plans for her future. If we ever really listened to Black girls, we (adult eavesdroppers) would see Lyric’s choice as more than near-sighted. Rather, we would glean strength from the hope that Lyric and Blake have invested in their community, in their choice of messy kinship over the (empty) politeness of The Ivy League. If we listened to Black girls, we would also take note of Lyric and Blake’s necessary maroonage, especially their decision to start their own organization when existing structures no longer served them. Lyric and Blake calls us to an awareness of our subject positions as listeners. Who am I when I meet these girls? Who would I be if these girls were meeting me at their age? Because of this call to reflection, Lyric and Blake should be added to any young girl’s library of adolescent novels. For some girls, Lyric will be a light cast onto shadows—answering questions they’d never ask aloud about “those” girls. For others, Lyric will be an affirming mirror (with all the Hip Hop swag of the mirror that once called Slick Rick a conceited bastard). Still, for queer or questioning girls who identify as femme, Lyric might be a thorn in the side—a reminder that misogyny doesn’t only infect boys; when hurt, the lover you thought was a comrade in the gender wars will fall back on sexist truisms like the vagina as tuna fish or mother as “slimy bitch you came from.” If seventh grade is a microcosmic metaphor for our society, there is no space safe from misogyny, especially not the space of our colonized minds.
Kionne Nicole’s work is a reminder that girlhood exists in a space next to, but beyond, the relative safety of metaphor—a real space where queer girls are actually isolated and ridiculed, where adults who misunderstand gender expression or sexuality make cruel mistakes, where the faculty member you’d identified as an ally starts dating your mama. Girlhood is messy. Girlhood is cruel. Girlhood is an adrenaline rush that Lyric and Blake ride well, holding onto each other so as not to be swept away from what Black feminist evangelist Alexis Pauline Gumbs calls “the shoreline,” that space of presence and action to which our foremothers call us. It is appropriate, then, that Lyric and Blake begins with Lyric’s humorous girlhood angst about the “cool” way to answer such a call. When Lyric finally decides on a plain and glorious, “Here,” we should all begin to take note.
[i] From Audre Lorde, “A Litany for Survival”
[ii] From June Jordan, “Poem for South African Women”