Book Cover
Rate this book

Ratings & Reviews for

Riot Baby

5 stars
2,030 (19%)
4 stars
4,374 (42%)
3 stars
2,936 (28%)
2 stars
730 (7%)
1 star
155 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,871 reviews
Profile Image for chai ♡.
321 reviews156k followers
January 23, 2023
At only 173 pages, Riot Baby is a quick read that you can easily breeze through over the course of a weekend, but there is plenty to sink your teeth into here. Equal parts love and rage, this is the kind of novel you turn over slowly and carefully in the back of your mind, feeling the edges of it like you would a coin. Intense, fierce, and impossible to forget.

The story follows Kev who is born the day of the Los Angeles riots of 1992 that were spurred by the savage beating of Rodney King and the subsequent acquittal of the police officers who had partaken in it. The author then moves through time and space, diving into achingly remembered moments of Kev’s life: now a child with endless potential, now a teen who knows fear in the shape of the faces of those who are supposed to protect him, now a young man spilled, like a seed from a smashed fruit, into the killing chill of a world ruled by the endlessly ravenous wolf of injustice and systemic racial oppression. A world where Kev has to fight for the simple privilege of drawing air into his lungs.

This carefully layered narrative across the decades works splendidly well, and gives the impression that every moment in Kev’s life had happened before it even happened, that it is happening now, has never stopped and will never stop happening; like a skip in a DVD endlessly throwing the reader backward and forward in time. That sense of nowness, of persistent, almost unbearable reality lends the novel a compelling urgency.

Meanwhile Kev’s sister—Ella—dreams. Ella has tremendous supernatural powers, but as strong and unbending as she is—powerful enough to fly, to pierce through the earth to the other side of the world, to reach into the depths of one’s mind and twist—she cannot save her brother from a world bent on punishing him for the simple crime of being a young Black man existing in public space. And for most of the novel, Ella, who has slipped into some great hollow place within her, only visits Kev in prison in psychedelic visions, as both of them try to gather up the strings and wind themselves nearer, nearer—through bleak, scoured-cold landscapes, and rooms without air—until they can finally meet each other in the middle. Until they can stand back to back, instead of living with their backs to the wall, ruled by fear of death. 

All we can do is the work. I recognize it’s not enough to preach free love. We have to combat free hate as well. 

There’s a gathering of something hard and unyielding at the core of this novel, a roar of anger and pain at the injustices of the world, the losses to which we see no end, only the far horizon, stretching on and on. And at the impunity, the hollowness of political platitudes, like threadbare cloth worn so thin that you could see light and shadow through its fabric. Onyebuchi makes it very clear that there’s nothing dystopian about his story. This is a lived reality for so many Black people in America, as undeniable as sight and touch, and the solidity of that truth runs like a vein through the novel, carried by the swift-running current of the author’s lucid yet dreamlike writing.

Riot Baby, after all, is a stirring story of resistance, and hope blooms on the pages like fungi after rain. It’s also a call to action. To make war against that old instinct Ella and Kev had to make war against—the instinct to freeze, to retreat, to cradle your anger in your hands until the flame went out safely—and to stand up to darkness, to fear, to injustice. To stand up for each other, arms entwined like a net to carry the heaviest burden. In one of the most powerful moments in this novel, Ella admits that she had wanted her brother to just survive, but, at the end,“in her chest, it becomes a cruel thing to ask him to do.”

Survival is not enough, insists Riot Baby, only freedom is.
Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 120 books159k followers
August 29, 2020
I love the ideas here, the genre blurring, how the narrative grapples with what it means to be black in this country. There are some issues. The transitions are odd. I get the purpose but it became more frustrating than interesting. And I think the book needs another 40 or so pages so that parts of the story could expand. But still, great book.
Profile Image for Nataliya.
781 reviews12.4k followers
July 5, 2021
Ugh. This book got glowing reviews from many of my friends, but it just did not work for me. It has passion and anger — but it takes more than that to make a good story. Passion and anger and strong emotions can only carry it so far. N.K. Jemisin and P. Djèlí Clark use these to create powerful stories. This one, unfortunately, falls quite short.

Maybe if it was just a realistic fiction dealing with criminal justice system and its faults, it could have been better. Maybe if it was a fiery opinion piece on incarceration, it would have made for a better read. But it incorporated - or at least tried to - fantastical elements which did not combine well with the main narrative thread. It’s like the author took two separate, unrelated ideas and tried to force them together, but instead of cohesion these ideas just jarred and jumbled, leading to plot holes and a nagging feeling that it’s an unfinished draft that needs more work.

It addressed issues and messages at the detriment of character development, especially that of Ella. What do I know of Ella by the end of it? That every time she’s on page, she somehow acquires yet another superpower - teleportation, telekinesis, precognition, time travel — off page — and yet absolutely zero is ever done to help anyone that she’s supposedly cares about? It is not integrated into the story, feels like a gimmick that’s only needed for the ending (that vision of ruthless retribution), and is a prime source of eyebrow-raising, especially every time she “levels up” without explanation or much consequence. It’s described as her “Thing” and that’s what it felt like - a “thing”, undeveloped and vague and jarring. And that damn implanted chip - the idea behind it is clear but the execution is slapdash and messy, and it’s just another “thing”. And, honestly, so are the Stepford-like compounds that are introduced and then fizzle out - just a “thing” that could have been interested if explored and developed properly.

I can’t quite pinpoint what it was about the writing style itself that kept me at arms length in this story, but something about it just kept a wall between me and the book. It had that half-finished quality of a quickly jolted down outline that was supposed to be revised and tightened, but wasn’t, leaving “things” unfinished and vague.

Really, it feels that the author is counting on the readers’ existing anger about injustices perpetuated in this world. But to create a good story, you can’t just rely on the existing feelings; then it’s not a story but a manifesto, which is a wholly different bag of chips.

To add to it all, I’m a determined pacifist, so the message in the end further soured already lackluster reading experience. “So much death, but there’s joy in it.” No, I can’t agree; violence for me - a pacifist - is not acceptable regardless of which side it comes from. Burn down the old to build the new is a tempting but juvenile solution that is yet to work well.

1-2 stars.

In the acknowledgements, Onyebuchi credits N.K. Jemisin and her The Broken Earth Trilogy: The Fifth Season / The Obelisk Gate / The Stone Sky with teaching him how to “write angry”. I’d advise reading that series instead — that would be a better use of your time.


My Hugo and Nebula Awards Reading Project 2021:
Profile Image for Lala BooksandLala.
500 reviews63.8k followers
May 19, 2020
Book 4 of 30 for my 30 day reading challenge!

I don't think I've ever read a book this short, that succeeded at everything it could have accomplished even if given 400 more pages. The broadness of this idea and setting, paired with the intimacy of this family narrative could not have been a more perfect balance. We've got some big themes like racial injustice and incarceration in a dystopian setting, but also a beautiful sibling dynamic at the heart of the story that is simply moving.

I'm so glad I picked this up, Tochi is a new auto-buy for me and I'm yet again impressed by Tor and their championing of bold and unique novellas.
Profile Image for Jesse (JesseTheReader).
468 reviews176k followers
December 22, 2022
This was an excellent short story! I felt like it executed the topics it brought forth in a solid way in terms of the short amount of time it had to cover them. I also LOVED the writing style like.. *chefs kiss*
Profile Image for James Tivendale.
317 reviews1,344 followers
September 30, 2019
I received an uncorrected proof copy of Riot Baby in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank Tochi Onyebuchi and Tor.

Riot Baby begins in Compton, USA depicting topics that could have been straight out of an N.W.A song. Racism, police brutality, gang banging etc... This chapter is presented by a young lady Ella who is one of the two point of view perspectives. At the culmination of the chapter Ella's mother goes into labour in the midst of a brutal riot and gives birth to her little brother. Kev, the riot baby.

As mentioned, the first of the two point of view perspectives is that of Ella. She has special powers which she refers to as the Thing. She can look at a person and can see visions of their past and future sufferings. She can Travel which means she can disappear to other places, can Shield to make herself invisible, can appear as an astral phantom, can destroy items with her mind... she can even make rats heads explode without looking at them. It is as if she is taking all the anger and despair that she witnesses and is building the emotions up to something that could be cataclysmic. Her views are presented in the third-person perspective.

The second main player is Kev, the titular Riot Baby. His viewpoint is presented in the first-person. He's an intelligent young black individual who spends a lot of time reading and fixing computers. He's also street-wise and knows a simple bad decision can equate to death in the hood. His narrative arc is full of depth which is surprising for a tale this short. He ends up being incarcerated for little more than being a young black gentleman. His time in jail is horrendous featuring some notorious and harrowing scenes, it changes him completely, and it fucks up his mind. The only thing that keeps him sort of sane or focused are visits he receives from his sister that are "both mundane and supernatural."

At 173 pages, this was an intense, occasionally challenging and utterly unique novella. It combines elements of science fiction, dystopian ideals, racism, supernatural powers, change, and oppression but it is ultimately about a close family and their love for each other. In these 173 pages the events that take place cover approximately 28 years. It goes from a nowadays Compton to a dystopian futuristic existence where emotions and choices are essentially taken away from black individuals. During this period Ella spends her whole time watching and drawing in the pain of reliving unjust deaths.

I will admit that I didn't fully understand a few sections when watching historic events or walking on different plains whilst the characters' bodies were still alive in the real world. It also switches sporadically occasionally from past, current, future and even point of view perspectives. This isn't really a negative, I just had to concentrate deeply to fully appreciate the full tale and it's three-dimensional depth. For me, this was between 3-4 stars up until the final 10 pages which were phenomenal and pushes Riot Baby up to a solid 4-star read. Onyebuchi is a popular YA author but there is no denying that this novella, his first-time releasing adult fiction is extremely dark and graphic in its nature. Certain scenes were nail-biting in their intensity and other occasions were so brutal that if this was a film then they would be the look away from the screen moments.

Riot Baby is a thrilling, intense, nail-biting read that transcends genre and has an ending of biblical proportions. Adult, often extreme but highly recommended.
Profile Image for The Artisan Geek.
445 reviews7,262 followers
July 23, 2020
------------------VIDEO REVIEW------------------

Finally a book review is up! :D

This book was definitely better the second time around! I think that if you aren't familiar with (black) history/culture in America you're going to have to work a little more in order to understand everything. Having done it, I would ay it was well worth the efoort and definitely would recommend reading it. My review will come out at the start of February.

A sincere thank you to for sending over a copy of this book!

You can find me on
Youtube | Instagram | Twitter | Tumblr | Website
Profile Image for karen.
3,988 reviews170k followers
November 19, 2020
oooh, goodreads choice awards finalist for best science fiction 2020! what will happen?


fulfilling my 2020 goal to read (at least) one book each month that was given to me as a present that i haven't yet gotten around to reading because i am an ungrateful dick.

nothing i can say about this book is going to resonate as much as the author's own words, so:

This book, like its title character, saw a fiery birth. Formerly a swirl of disembodied phrases and feelings and half-characters, the story of Ella and Kev began to coalesce while, in Paris, I learned of the non-indictments of the police officers responsible for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. After the revelation of the circumstances surrounding the shooting death of Laquan McDonald, I began to hear, with greater force, the stirrings of Ella's voice and Kev's. Each new horrifically regular death, whether upon initial police contact or later during police or carceral custody, made clearer what I wanted to say. Because while I mourned, I thought of the families left behind and how the orbit of hurt at the center of which sits each of these tragedies is spread almost beyond imagining. In a fiction genre that traffics in the impossible, I wondered how such people, such families, might find themselves situated.

What might the opposite of injustice look like?

too many orbits, too many obits

to anyone who needs to hear this: please stop making the world terrible.

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Jananie (thisstoryaintover).
290 reviews13.8k followers
June 5, 2020
incredible scope and astounding intimacy. this book covers so much in so little time. as the author says in his acknowledgements, this book is "angry, the type of angry that still leaves room for love." Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
808 reviews1,264 followers
April 26, 2020
Riot Baby, though short, is powerful. It is a book that punches you in the gut with each of its 174 pages. 

It is the story of siblings Ella and Kev and how structural racism defines their lives, beginning in childhood. Kev is the Riot Baby, born during the LA riots of 1992, Ella the sister with mysterious powers. Their childhood is fraught with danger, and violence is an everyday affair. Somehow they survive into adulthood, when Kev is unjustly arrested and incarcerated, as so many young black men are in America.

The story fluctuates between Kev's experiences and Ella's. Ella too is incarcerated, trapped in the justifiable anger that consumes her. All her life she's had visions, and through them witnesses countless acts of police brutality against Black people. She also witnesses their oppression countless times in her everyday life.

My only problem with this book is that at times it moved around too much and many times it wasn't immediately clear if the scenario was actually happening or was a vision. Reality would become jumbled. Were we in the past, present, or future?

In passionate and at times poetic prose, Riot Baby reminds us of the many injustices and atrocities Black people face every day in America, a country that is steeped in structural and cultural racism. It is not a book to read if you want to cover your eyes, comfort yourself, and insist we live in post-racial times. 

The book ultimately leaves us with a glimmer of hope that things can get better and eventually will. It points out however, that change cannot happen if people remain silent. Riot Baby, though fiction, is a call to action on the part of everyone who cares.
Profile Image for Aoife - Bookish_Babbling.
316 reviews321 followers
March 10, 2021
Disjointed storytelling that jumps back and forth between Ella & Kev's PoV + bounces about timelines without warning or explanation. Hard hitting & thought provoking because it doesn't hold our hand or spell things out for us.
Stirring, poignant & powerful!

Packs a mighty punch for a novella, it hits on many levels at once - phew...Strap in & hang on *gulp*

PS - the cover is so striking!

Edit 10/3/21
Another I'm silly proud of for my booksta thoughts...altho please go easy on the photo! Not sure what happened me there, far from my finest moment & peak #lazybookstagrammer lowkey/highkey self-fulfilling prophecy I guess 🙈
Profile Image for Faith.
1,897 reviews535 followers
July 21, 2020
This is my third attempt with this author and it’s probably my last. I just don’t think he is very good at writing fantasy. This novella is a combination of fantasy and realism. Ella has all sorts of powers (time travel, teleportation, ability to see the future), but none were explained or seemed to be applied in a useful way. The realistic parts of the book about the criminal justice system were better. 2.5 stars
Profile Image for Mel (Epic Reading).
917 reviews282 followers
August 30, 2020
”We don’t get where we’re going by matching hate for hate.”

This is an odd little story. I’m not sure I understood it all. But I hope I got enough of it that I know what Toni Onyebuchi is trying to say. It jumps around a lot. So be prepared to really pay attention.

My favourite part is when Onyebuchi describes using algorithms that are coded to persecute POC as the same as cops making conscious decisions. This is very powerful to me. Thus stating, systematic racism is no different than allowing a computer to run a program and determine the outcome. It’s 100% predictable. Sadly I think this absolutely true. People have been coded to react a certain way based on the colour of someone’s skin.

My privileged white girl self is completely at a loss on how to break things down and fight back to help all POC most days. Certainly understanding is the obvious first step. I desire to do more and so am trying to consume ownvoices fiction and truly listen to what is being said. Questioning my own thoughts and actions regarding race; and no longer letting family or friends make casual racist remarks. It’s long past time to call people out for what they say and how they say it. I certainly felt that part of Riot Baby was about driving home how many riots and times this issue has crept to the surface; and then been beaten down again with no change. I hope that this 2020 riot push back doesn’t go away until true progress can be made.

No one story or book will change everything; but like The Hate U Give, I think Riot Baby is a wonderful contribution to stating the issues in a way to give a different perspective. It’s very important we continue this conversation and change the delivery to get to more people. I recommend reading this, even if you feel a bit lost like I did, just so you can experience a perspective you’ve likely never seen/heard before. Thank you to Onyebuchi for providing this unique and moving story.

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,099 followers
November 7, 2020
I thought this was stunning. The writing was all kinds of gorgeous.

I think it's a perfect companion piece to watching Do the Right Thing or reading Between the World and Me or The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism.

Note, each of these references are a bit more hardcore than the last. But it's all related.

After all my previous readings over the last few months, this is a perfect companion piece and a microcosm for what's been happening in America for hundreds of years. Particulars change, but the fundamental injustice remains the same.

In this particular book, written so well, we have some pretty conflicted psychology and super-powers that are more a fantastic spice to a story that is becoming increasingly more universal than an actual superhero tale.

Of course, with this much injustice, this much hate despite wanting to stop the hate, the REAL conflict is revealed. And it's not violence.

It's the pressure. We need to know it for what it really is. If we want to solve this problem, we need to recognize that we create our own hells. All of us.
Profile Image for Mara.
1,632 reviews3,881 followers
September 21, 2020
3.5 stars - this is one of those books you read and think, ooo. I bet this author has a LOT more excellent work in them. I can't wait to read further into the author's oeuvre. I just loved the writing and the characters... I think this could have been either a little longer or a little shorter for my tastes, but overall, very thought provoking take on cycles of violence and how institutionalized violence has impacted the Black American experience
Profile Image for Matt Quann.
651 reviews385 followers
March 22, 2020
Occasionally, when a big book lands I feel like I'm missing out if I don't immediately jump on board and get in on the cultural conversation. There's a palpable jolt of nerdy electricity when I get to touch the live wire of a popular new novel and join in the discussion. For armchair and couch thrill seekers like myself, the rub comes when you read with enough diversity that hyped-up books land on a seemingly weekly basis. The rest you know: I buy more books than I read, and when the initial FOMO-induced pressure wears off a perfectly good book can be left in the dust.

But with a novella? It's guaranteed to be an economical use of reading time and a way to dip your toe in the hype, and that's exactly what I did with one of 2020's early critical darlings: Riot Baby.

Tochi Onyebuchi's novella introduces us to Ella, a superpowered black girl growing up in LA as the riots begin to break out in 1992. Though Ella and her ever-expanding power set in a new setting seem like a great hook, it's her incarcerated brother Kevin who guides us through much of Riot Baby. Onyebuchi uses Ella's telepathic abilities to mine various characters' histories and experiences to craft a narrative that jumps around in time and POV.

It sounds a bit messy, but it actually ends up being a gorgeously enraged tapestry that slowly blends together intergenerational trauma with the prison industrial complex and the black experience in America. For sci-fi aficionados, Riot Baby skews more towards social commentary delivered via high-concept than hardcore action or hard SF, but that shouldn't detract you. The experience of reading Riot Baby was decidedly more grounded than I had expected for a novella that features an almost-Godlike protagonist, but that was more of a pleasant surprise than a detraction.

Overall, this is a great debut and a novella I thought lived up to the hype. Riot Baby has some influences that shone through (N.K. Jemisin, Marlon James, and George Saunders stuck out to me), but is not a book that feels derivative in content, tone, or plot. Indeed, this feels new in style and content, and I suppose that's what an impressive new voice arriving on the scene feels like.
Profile Image for destiny ♡ howling libraries.
1,738 reviews5,278 followers
October 10, 2022
“I am the locusts, and the frogs, and the river of blood.”

I've never read anything by Tochi Onyebuchi before this story, but it absolutely won't be my last book from this author. I was captivated from start to finish and am so glad that I finally read this angry, powerful little story. I'm especially grateful that I picked up the audiobook, which Tochi himself narrates and does it incredibly well.

Riot Baby is a bit of a tough book to describe because it feels equal parts speculative, dystopian, and nonfiction (if that combination is even imaginable). It kicks off during the Rodney King riots, but quickly transports us to a version of a very near future whose only major difference, aside from technological advancements, is how completely unveiled the state of America's racism is. In Riot Baby, we see super police and fully unchecked white terrorism rule the stage even more prominently than they do in our actual modern times, and it's rough to read.

This story and its characters are hurting and full of justified rage, and it's impossible not to feel those things right alongside them. I loved Ella and Kev and their mother immensely, and I only wish I'd had a bit more time with them, but that's the mark of a great novella: a story that has been developed enough not to need more pages, but that is lovable enough to leave you wanting them.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy! All thoughts are honest and my own.

Representation: all main characters are Black

Content warnings for:

twitter | booktok | bookstagram | blog
Profile Image for Dave.
3,101 reviews353 followers
May 14, 2020
Riot Baby

Riot Baby is a story of Kev and Ella, two siblings from South Central Los Angeles, trapped into reliving their story over and over like an endless repetitive Groundhog Day, unable to ever break out of the roles society chose for them. Their interlinked stories are similar but different.

Kev was born as the 1992 LA riots raged and the inner city burned. For four or five days, all semblance of order left town as truckers were pulled out of their rigs and beaten nearly to death with bricks and shop owners in Koreatown took to rooftops to defend their families and their livelihoods. Using injustice as an excuse for riotous evil, they put the final nails in the coffin of Los Angeles.

Kev didn't learn any lessons, but after the family moved to Harlem to start a new life, committed armed robbery, and found himself last coed in Riker's for the next eight years. After brutal years of incarceration, Kev is paroled to a new version of Watts, a suburban walled off parole village with cookie cutter houses and Tupperware parties, but a chip implanted to prevent anger and cut off from the outside world. Kev never found any way out and couldn't escape prison even when he finally left there.

Ella was the sister with every super power ever imagined from astral protection to time travel to mindreading. Powerful enough on her own to burn cities to the ground, Ella herself is trapped and can't seem to accomplish much either her powers. She relies a history of racial injustices and travels to spots where shootings have occurred more recently sparking civil rights protests. Like her brother, Ella can't escape the demons of racial oppression and can't see outside that lens.

Written in beautiful prose that only hints at where Ella can travel, Riot Baby succeeds in taking us readers inside the experiences of Kev and Ella and seeing through their eyes.
Profile Image for Brenda Waworga.
606 reviews677 followers
June 21, 2020
This book is dark and full of anger of the injustice towards black people which is very accurate with what happened around the world lately but As much as i understand this is an important book that sending message to it's reader i couldn't feel connected with the writing style and plot

There are 2 main characters on this book Ella and Kev, they are sibblings .. Ella has this "THING" a power to see feature, to fly and all the magical things, while Kev her brother went to prison and Ella tried to rescue him from the prison... this book felt like an introduction to a bigger story so i felt the plot isn't that strong

I had struggle to feel connected with the writing style, it reminds me alot with N.K Jemisin's style (i read on the Acknowledgement the author indeed feel inspired from Jemisin's Broken Earth Trilogy), It ussually took around 200 pages for me to really feel connected with Jemisin's style and "Riot Baby" is less than 200 pages, so in the end of the story i don't feel i like this book as much as i wanted to when i start it
Profile Image for Tori (InToriLex).
463 reviews367 followers
February 12, 2020
This book was is about a future where mass incarceration's unchecked progression, meets the power of black woman with a Thing who can manipulate the world around her. A memorable family story that reflects on police brutality and killing within black communities. I really enjoyed this quick and imaginative read.
Profile Image for Holly (The GrimDragon).
1,047 reviews235 followers
December 27, 2020
"But I can't get enough of what's going on outside. My body warms with it, like a space heater in my bones. One of the cops reaches down and uncuffs the guys on the ground, and Havoc gets back up as the cops back away, shouting, "You see the address! Come back later, pussy!" And it's not this, but the growing crowd, some of them with cameras, that makes the cops shuffle away. And it feels like victory."

Riot Baby is the adult debut science fiction novel by Tochi Onyebuchi. It follows siblings Ella and Kev who have radical powers.

Ella has a Thing. She can see things that no one else does. Images from the future. Clips of how people will look when they are older, their careers, even how they may die. She will often get a sense that something bad is going to happen. These powers cause Ella to become increasingly withdrawn, as the consequences of hearing so much hate and anger through the thoughts of others is an extreme burden for someone to deal with.

Kev was born during the Los Angeles riots in 1992, hours after the officers who beat Rodney King were acquitted. The title "Riot Baby," is a reference to Kev's nickname. A technology wizard, Kev loves to read and work on computers. Determined, intelligent and ambitious, he becomes a victim of circumstance - that of being a young black man in America.

The story navigates between future and present-day, highlighting the painful roots of racism embedded throughout American culture and history.

"The images spin into stories, so many stories.."

I first learned of Riot Baby on Twitter while I watched a beautiful video of Onyebuchi seeing the cover for the first time. It went on my TBR immediately. Of course after learning what the book was actually going to be about, I was even more interested!

Tochi Onyebuchi delivers a hard-hitting dystopian in a not-so-distant future that tackles incredibly important topics like racial aggression, injustice, unwarranted violence and oppression. It's impressive how much Onyebuchi covers within this short novella, including supernatural abilities within real-world realities, police brutality, a broken justice system and the black American experience over the years.

Riot Baby is a difficult, but integral read. It's a powerfully emotional story that should be part of the contemporary high school curriculum. Truly.

Even with so much hurt, there is hope.

(Big thanks to Publishing for sending me a copy!)

**The quotes above were taken from an ARC & are subject to change upon publication**
Profile Image for Hank.
820 reviews79 followers
November 4, 2022
An uncomfortable 4 stars. As many have mentioned in reviews before me, this book is filled with anger, rage and violence. A constant stream of bitterness and anger is directed towards the current environment for non-white people in the U.S. All of it accurate, all of it heartbreaking, frustrating and any other adjective you could use to describe the seemingly inescapable misery.

This isn't a smooth story, Onyebuchi gives Ella and Kev powers mainly so that he can stuff more examples of horrible situtations into a novella without turning it into a novel, but it does have a beginning, middle and end so there is that.

Ultimately Onyebuchi was successful in transferring Ella and Kev's anger to me and at the end also give me a glimpse of a world where I might be in the same cage. I enjoyed the writing and will definitely give another one of his books a shot.
Profile Image for The Nerd Daily.
720 reviews345 followers
December 15, 2019
Originally published on The Nerd Daily | Review by Beth Mowbray

Riot Baby is the tale of siblings Ella and Kev who are gifted with tremendous powers. The book jumps back and forth across America, beginning on the West Coast where Kev is born amidst the 1992 Los Angeles riots, granting him the nickname “Riot Baby.” Although his sister is young, these riots and the atmosphere of the surrounding community are powerfully impactful for her.

The narrative next resumes with Ella and Kev after their mother has moved them across the country to Harlem, where they face similar issues of discrimination, just in a different community. Kev attempts to balance the draw of the street life which has engaged so many of his peers with his innate interest in learning and his future goals. Gifted with visions of the future (which are not gifts at all, rather premonitions of the horrors to come), Ella becomes increasingly withdrawn and angry. Her powers begin to manifest in unexpected and dangerous ways, ways that scare even her family, culminating in a series of events that forever changes the course of both siblings’ lives.

It is difficult to share too much more about the storyline without spoiling the twists and turns which lie within. Kev ultimately ends up incarcerated and is buoyed through this trying time by conversations with Ella during visiting hours as well as her magical appearances in his cell. Meanwhile, Ella faces her own struggles, absorbing the weight of so much hate and violence through her ability to hear the thoughts of others, to see the past and the apocalyptic future. Both siblings are also burdened with the fight for freedom, the conflict between rising above the hate and considering the action which may be necessary to fight the injustice.

Onyebuchi packs a lot into this little book. Riot Baby directly confronts decades of police violence by building upon real life events like the well-known beating of Rodney King, as well as nodding to perhaps lesser known, but no less important, events such as the Watts Riots of 1960s Los Angeles and the shooting of Sean Bell in 2006. The use of magical realism has been a popular device in recent fiction that aims to tackle such difficult and important subjects, yet Onyebuchi approaches this in a way all his own. By weaving together history and fantasy, he adroitly demonstrates how racism has been, and continues to be, embedded in the culture of the United States. This technique works quite well to emphasise and sharpen his commentary, while also allowing a glimpse into a not-so-distant dystopian future. A future full of warnings, a sense of imposed control housed inside a beautifully misleading veneer, which will make your skin crawl.

Onyebuchi is a truly skilled world-builder and his juxtaposition of the real and the fantastic, the present and the possible future, is impressive. In relatively few words, he creates such realistic images in the mind of the reader, immersing them in each scene. The narrative builds and builds, digging its claws in ever sharper, drawing the reader to the edge of their seat. The only drawback to this novella is that I wanted more! I could have easily inhaled a book twice as long, as I found myself wanting to know much more about the brave characters he created and the multiple worlds they inhabit.
Profile Image for Zitong Ren.
504 reviews158 followers
October 18, 2020
This was really interesting of a read, that since the book is under 200 pages, I was able to get through over a single afternoon + evening. While it has some supernatural and speculative elements, I felt that the real focus was police brutality and injustice against Black people. It presented Black pain and anger really well, I found at least. It really ended up being such a powerful book and achieved a lot despite the low page count.

I think that in the state the world is in now, these stories dealing with these issues must and should continue to be written and addressed. It’s almost sad that so many novels that I have read by Black authors are so centred on Black anger and the sheer injustice of systemic racism. I would love for more novels on things beyond just that(I’m aware there are many out there, but I’m more addressing what I see as what is more popular in terms of books published by Black authors), but honestly, I really don’t know if the world is ready for that yet.

This has interchanging POV’s between two main characters, Ella and Kev, or Kevin. It switches between first person for Kev, and third person for Ella, which was slightly disorienting at times, but one, I realised what was happening, and two, quickly became accustomed to it. It takes place over a fairly large time span, which I figured out eventually and jumps a fair bit. I would have liked for it to have been a bit more noticeable that it does take place, it’s obviously embedded in the text that time has passed, but at times, it was sort of hard to follow as to exactly the time frame of how things were going.

Underneath all the hurt, pain, anger and I sense potentially even fear at police and the system as a whole, there does lie the very important theme of hope, which is demonstrated very clearly at the end, and I love it for that. I personally hate at how slow change has been and it’s deplorable that for generations and generations, systemic racism is still alive and well, and even flourishing amongst various groups of people and countries and it abhors me. I found that this book demonstrated that well, considering it takes place over twenty-eight years and that after that time, justice has still yet to be served.

There wasn’t that coherent of a plot so I’m not going to really touch on that, but it was sad at many of the events that did occur in this novel. The speculative elements were interesting enough, though it didn’t exactly blow me away, but it was cool and suited the narrative well.

And those are my thoughts on Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi. 8/10
Profile Image for Christina Pilkington.
1,535 reviews163 followers
March 29, 2020
Wow, did this take me forever to read! And it’s just a novella! I wound up setting a timer each night for 15 minutes and reading what I could during that time.

I would have put this one down, but it has been getting pretty good reviews, and I generally enjoy a lot of Tor novels. And I’m guessing it will be nominated next year for awards due to the subject matter. Sadly, it didn’t live up to the hype for me.

My problem with this book was its lack of a strong story. It was a like a long drawn out reflection on racism and economic inequality in the guise of fiction.

It was a jumbled mess of ideas, plot points, characters and structure. I think with a strong, well thought out plot, more clear character development, and a clear structure, this could have been a very powerful story. Such a shame because the author has a distinct and thoughtful voice.
Profile Image for Taylor.
486 reviews137 followers
January 31, 2022
"The Devil is busy here." Mama has taken to smoothing out Ella's outfit, running her hand down her sleeves. "The gangs, the drugs, all the evil that men do to each other here. Sometimes even the police. That's the Devil. But you just gotta pray, all right, Ella?"


Riot Baby was an intense, emotionally raw, timely novella that I desperately need to reread.

There's so much to sink your teeth into, and Tochi Onyebuchi's writing is pulsing with emotion. This story is about two siblings, Ella and Kev. Ella's younger brother Kev was born during the Rodney King riots, and their childhoods were defined and destroyed by racism, brutality, and loss. When Kev is incarcerated for simply being a Black man in America, Ella is able to reach out with her ever-growing abilities and communicate with him. A revolution is brewing, and it threatens to burn everything to the ground.

A deep well of rage and love burns beneath the surface of this beautifully written, strange little book. This is an honest, unflinching look into the Black American experience, and tackles important topics like police brutality, systemic racism, racial injustice, and the mass incarceration of Black people in the United States. While the setting in Riot Baby is technically dystopian, it's an undeniable reality that many Black Americans live in. Kev, like many other Black men in America, is incarcerated simply for existing, and Ella, too, is imprisoned by her own rage.

“I am the locusts, and the frogs, and the river of blood.”


While the narrative sweeps broadly over time and space, this is also an intimate story about family, and the hope that can bloom in even the most desolate of landscapes. Through all the anger and devastation, I felt an undeniable surge of love for these characters, and Ella and Kev's relationship was lovely and nuanced.

Again, I feel like I need to reread this book to fully grasp the symbolism and intricacies of the story, but I really enjoyed Riot Baby. It's a powerful, hopeful, sweeping narrative, and I definitely want to explore more of Onyebuchi's work.


“Freedom. I see freedom.”
Profile Image for Jamesboggie.
299 reviews18 followers
March 9, 2020
Riot Baby is one of the angriest books I have ever read. This is a novella length protest of the injustices African Americans suffer at the hands of the criminal justice system. From the LA Riots to future parole, this book demands readers confront systemic racial injustices head on.

The story follows Ella and Kev Jackson. It opens with Ella and her Mama witnessing the start of the LA Riots, and Mama going into labor with Kev. It then follows the family to Harlem, where Kev gets swept up by the police and Ella develops her Thing. Kev spends a long time in prison, and experiences many more injustices. He finally gets out, only to find himself in a heavily monitored and controlled corporate parole community. Ella saves Kev, and ends the story with a call for revolution.

Riot Baby is a highly personal and emotional book. It is zoomed in tight on the Jackson family, just three people trying to navigate life under an oppressive system of policing. It is brutal and unyielding. The language is raw. Scenes are highly detailed and highly uncomfortable. By the end, you should be seeing red like Ella.

I never did understand Ella’s Thing. She has tremendous and poorly defined power. I spent most of the book struggling to interpret her Thing, and find its place in the story. It does not impact the plot significantly, so I really wondered what the point was. I think the story could stand without her Thing. It seems to only open up opportunities to directly view many injustices, and imply a radical revolt after the book ends.

I respect Riot Baby, but I think a lot of novels touch the same themes better. I have read books by James Baldwin that made the same critiques into high art. I would have liked the story to go one way or the other with Ella’s Thing: either make it central to the story, or remove it and focus on the authentic experiential aspects of the book.

Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,871 reviews