Cover Image: Sorrowland

Sorrowland

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Member Reviews

This fucking book, man. I read this quite a while back, actually, but no matter how many times I tried to write a review for it, it just seemed like I couldn’t do it justice. Trying to convey how it made me feel would honestly require me to be a much better writer than I currently am.

Even just explaining what this book is about seems an impossible task. Vern is a Black albino teenager born and raised in a cult and made to marry their leader. While pregnant, she flees the compound to give birth and raise her two children in the woods. The family is then hunted by a mysterious enemy, all while Vern undergoes drastic bodily changes, and becomes subject to increasingly vivid visions.

Sorrowland touches on a lot of things. It comes with pretty much every content warning that it is possible to have, so please don’t enter into it lightly. This feels like a book trying to work through a lot of complex, messy feelings. But I have to admit that I love how it doesn’t try to “solve” any of the issues that it explores. It doesn’t gloss over them, but instead tries to sort through them.

The celebration of culture, but the wariness of having that weaponised against you. The love and joy of being a parent, but wanting to be your own person. Recognising that an experience was shit, but making the most of the strength it gives you. Showing empathy for the struggles of others, but not forgiveness for the shit they do to you.

“Enjoyed” isn’t the word, here, as Sorrowland does go to some pretty dark places. But I will never regret, and will always appreciate having read it. It is one of my top books of the year so far. There are some aspects that weren’t for me (I’m not much of a smut reader, so supernatural threesomes are a bit outside my wheelhouse), but many that really struck a chord with me.

I particularly loved that Vern isn’t necessarily the nicest or most “likeable” of characters, and I loved how the book engages with that. There’s an element of… “Okay I came from a really shitty place, but I have to recognise that I have, to some degree, internalised some of that shittiness, and I need to work on that.” That’s the kind of complex, messy, real shit that lots of books don’t dare to tackle. And that’s why I hold Sorrowland in such high regard.
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“Going against tended to end more rightly, more justly, than going with. People were wrong. Rules, most of the time, favored not what was right, but what was convenient or preferable to those in charge.” 

Sorrowland tells the story of Vern as she flees from a cult and its leader to create a new life with her children. But Cainland doesn't let her go easily. She is hunted and haunted by the cult, so eventually decides to leave the woods and go to civilisation to find her friend, Lucy. 

“How come white folks were always telling Black people to get over slavery because it was 150 or so years ago but they couldn’t get over their Christ who died 1,830 years before that?” 

Sorrowland is a deeply ambitious and complex story of misogyny, racism, sexuality and power. While I loved it conceptually, I found the execution to not be quite what I was looking for. This included some sci-fi elements that I wasn't expecting, and the overall tone was just a little off. I found myself bogged down by all the imagery and symbolism, but couldn't bring myself to try and sort through all of it because I wasn't invested enough. 

“She was a girl made of aches and she flung her body at the world in the hopes that something, anything, might soothe the tendernesses.” 

If you are a fan of weird, experimental and lightly sci-fi books- you will probably love this! It was just a little too elusive and strange for my personal tastes. I have a feeling that this would be a really good book to buddy read or discuss with a book club. Unfortunately, I didn't have anyone to discuss it with so I don't think I had the best experience I could have. 

Overall, most of my critisisms were by no fault of the book itself, but me. I simply think I wasn't the target audience. But if you are, I can completely see how you would love this book. 

★★☆☆☆.5 stars

Thank you to Random House UK for this ARC

Release Date: 6 May 2021
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As a fan of Rivers Solomon's first novel, I really expected to love this. I liked it enough, but that's about it; I found it too intangible to grasp onto, never quite sure what was happening, and not in an ethereal and intriguing way, just an unsatisfying one. I didn't feel connected to Vern or her story, and it felt like I was skimming over the story, not really experiencing it. Solomon's use of language is as beautiful as ever, but I'd struggle to recount the plot if asked. Not a hit for me.
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Beautiful writing. I was hooked! 
A perfect read for the summer holidays. 

Thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for letting me access an advance copy of this book in exchange for my feedback.
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“In the woods, it had been so easy to assert herself fearlessly, but it was impossible to be a free woman among people. Society demanded a certain level of lying about oneself”.- Sorrowland by Rivers Soloman.
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Sorrowland is told from the perspective of Vern( an albino black teenager) who at 15 and pregnant, escapes from Cainland- a dangerous cult masquerading as a safe haven for black people. From there we follow Vern over the years, as she hides away in woods with her twins but when a sickness infecting her body- causing haunting by the dead, and deforming her bones- gets progressively worse, she decides to take her children and get help. But Vern’s strange sickness links to the horrifying Cainland, and the people behind it all...are not done with her yet! 
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Sorrowland is a mix of SFF and horror that pulls you in from the first page. Vern is one of the STRONGEST characters I have ever read about, and I devoured this book. Rivers Solomon wrote so exquisitely; it was as if  you could feel the hauntings and terror each time Vern experienced them. You could further feel the bonds between Vern and her children, and again with two other major side characters. 
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 While it does so in a fictional setting and metaphors, Sorrowland does not shy away from highlighting the horrors Black people and Black women endure at the hands of the American government. Which is extremely important! Sorrowland further explores different forms of abuse-whether mentally, physically, parental or domestic-, sexuality (Vern is attracted to women), gender and love. 
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Sometimes you read a book and you know you’ll NEVER forget it and Sorrowland was that book for me. It had scenes that were horrifying, soft, scary, and truly unforgettable. I highly recommend this book.
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I so wanted to enjoy this, and I really do admire what Rivers Solomon has crafted here, but this kind of book tends to be very hit-and-miss for me, and in this case I sadly didn't love it.

I did finish the novel, but it was difficult at times to get through. I did think it was beautifully written and I think Rivers Solomon is definitely an author I hope to read more from, but Sorrowland got 3 stars from me in the end.
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This is an extraordinary book that defies expectations.

Vern lived and grew up in Cainland, in the deep South of America, where a community of black people believe their God, the God of Cain, will keep them from harm, keep them honest and safe from the white devils. 

Vern is albino and as such has always been different. Cainland’s leader takes a fancy to her, partly because she brims with questions and defiance and thinks marriage to him, despite her young age, will keep her tame. But Vern will not be contained. When she runs from the compound she is heavily pregnant.

We think we know this story. It holds familiar echoes. But what teenage mother could give birth to twins, alone in a forest, strap them to her chest and run and swing through trees to escape a pursuer with a gun and wolves? What teenage mother could survive in a self-made shelter, foraging for food, making her own clothes, teaching her twins, alone in the forest? This is no ordinary young woman and Cainland is much more than it seems. How could such a community survive in the American South without incident? Who really has the power in Cainland? Why can no one seem to run away, until now…

Part speculative fiction, part painful contemporary realism, Sorrowland doesn’t fit the usual moulds but takes the reader on a journey for freedom that explores race, sexuality and the boundaries of the human mind and body as something rooted in the natural world. At times crazy, but always an exciting ride, this is a genre busting novel with a powerfully raw emotional heart that beats loudly in the reader’s ears. You’ll know if this sounds like your kind of thing.
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This book is very intense and triggering.
There is a lot going on. Definitely check the triggers before going in, there's so much that could upset so many. It's a tough read, definitely not for the faint-hearted.

Unfortunately, this really wasn't for me.
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Wow. It's not often you get the opportunity to read something so original. Sorrowland follows Vern, a young. pregnant teenager who has fled to the woods to escape her husband and the cult he leads. Vern is young, black, intersex, queer and albino, fiercely independent and virtually unstoppable. I loved her from first page to last. Vern brings up her offspring, fearing capture by the long arms of Cainland and struggling with terrifying bodily changes that don't make sense. Sorrowland is packed full of passion and rage and horror as Solomon examines the force of an prejudiced world on mariginalised bodies: POC, LGBTQ+, women and indigenous peoples. It's sci-fi and horror and thriller, filled to the brim with huge imagery and unapologetic power. Funny, sexy, horrifying and beautifully written.
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This was an ambitious, dark and harrowing read. Oppression, subjugation, abuse  of Africa’s Americans and the imposition of religion and ‘norms’. This is a compelling story of one family’s struggle to survive a horrifying world. This was not a comfortable or even entertaining read but it certainly was an important one, in a unique and distinctive voice. Many thanks to Netgalley for an arc of this book.
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Sorrowland is a dark, haunting read that will keep you thinking until the very last page. It follows Vern, a young woman who was brought up in a religious compound, secluded deep in the woods. Her life had been dictated her whole life, until one day she gathers the strength as she is pregnant and flees for a better life. Away from the cult, in the attempts of creating a new life for herself and her children. However, something inside Vern is changing her physical body and she starts to see the dead. As time goes on, Vern discovers what truly happened to her at the compound and the historical implications it has had on her community over time.

This book really focuses on the historical implications of racism in America. How dehumanisation, medical experimentation and genocide were and still are issues this world faces today. 
Sorrowland is a truly fascinating story, that is so unique you’ll be amazed by it.  

I really enjoy books that genre blend and Sorrowland does it perfectly. It is gothic literature at its finest. 

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a darker read. Especially gothic literature and to those of you that love reading diverse reads.
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I don't always enjoy novels with magical elements but this one was well-crafted and very insightful on the human spirit. Probably not one that I would come back to, but many people will love this novel.
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I'm a reader who tends to stay in my comfort zone quite a lot, but I'll be the first to admit that stepping out of it once in a while is so worthwile. Sorrowland is a combination of a lot of elements I don't typically enjoy, but it was such a valuable reading experience. I thought it might take me a while to read this, but I could absolutely not put it down. I think that's largely because I tend to expect a book of this genre to be quite heavy, and parts of it definitely were, but this also felt like a really hopeful book, and there's a lot of love between Vern and her children.
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I read The Deep by Rivers Solomon last year and it was such a beautiful and haunting read that I was excited to try more from this author. The story follows Vern, a young woman fleeing the remote religious compound she has lived in all her life. She gives birth to two babies and tries to raise them without the influence of the compound or the outside world. As Vern and her babies fight for survival she soon learns something is wrong with her body. Not only is she experiencing hauntings, but her body is changing, making her more powerful than she ever thought possible. But the group she fled from will not let her go easily and for Vern to survive she must become more than she ever imagined.

Sorrowland is a dark and moving tale, one that definitely sticks with you long after you’ve finished reading. Vern’s story is a haunting one, that very much shines a light on the history of racism in America. It’s such a unique read, blending Gothic horror with science fiction and fantasy. Sorrowland is completely unlike anything I’ve read before – if you’re looking for a unique and compelling read this is definitely one to pick up.

I really liked Solomon’s writing and I particularly enjoyed the first half of the book. I found the last portion of the book a little muddied, and the ending took a different turn than I was expecting. Despite this Sorrowland is still a completely fascinating read, one that touches on a lot of important topics. It definitely isn’t a light or fun read but it’s absolutely a story worth reading. I was really fascinated by the idea of the hauntings, and this was something I was particularly intrigued by in the story. I was so intrigued to learn if they were real or a product of Vern’s imagination. I won’t say too much about the plot because this is definitely one of those books that’s best to go in blind. Sorrowland is a unique and engaging read, one that I think lots of people will be swept up in. If you’ve read other books by Rivers Solomon I’d definitely check this one out.
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This was such a multi-layered and utterly engrossing book featuring one of the most memorable protagonists I have ever read. We follow Vern, a 15 year old pregnant girl as she escapes from 'Cainland' - a religious cult. Following her flight, she gives birth in the woods and discovers strange changes to her body that she cannot explain. What I loved most about this book was the way the story just kept building layer upon layer in such a stunningly skillful way. So although the opening section with Vern is completely compelling, somehow Rivers Solomon managed to keep introducing new aspects to the story to make it even more fascinating. Dealing unapologetically with the legacy of slavery and the systematic oppression of minorities, the narrative also examines the history of government experimentation and testing, as well as compulsory sterilisation for native women. By no means an easy read, this is an absolute masterpiece of speculative fiction and I cannot wait to see what Rivers Solomon offers up next! Amazing!
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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This was a powerful read. A stunning blend of horror and fantasy that created the perfect gothic atmosphere.

The writing blew me away, but I did read at a very slow pace to make sure I took everything in. There are very heavy themes such as racism while exploring motherhood and identity.

I actually accompanied this book with the audiobook and I highly recommend it! The narration was gorgeous and helped keep me in the story.

Thank you to Merky Books Pride Book Tours for my gifted copy. This title was released May 6, 2021.
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Content warning: Racism (including mentions of radical anti-black movements), Murder, Self harm, Animal death, Child abuse

Representation: f/f relationship (both lesbian), Nystagmus, Albino mc and side character

Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon is a harrowing work of gothic fiction that will stick with you long after finishing. We follow Vern, a young woman, who escapes the confines of her oppressive religious compound into the woods to have her children and raise them away from the community she’d grown to mistrust. Her body starts to change, she becomes stronger and faster and must investigate her past to find out what’s happening to her.

In all honestly, going into this book I hadn’t expected what I got. The narrative threw in so many twists and turns I was left reeling, eating up the new information that continued to be unveiled throughout.

Vern is a stong character that doesn’t know how to take no for an answer, she bares her teeth at the wold and dares for it to cross her. I could only dream to be like her one day.

Howling and Feral, Verns children raised in the woods away from the influence of the modern world, were some of my favourite parts. I really loved seeing how the approached the world so differently from one another but with the same desperation for answers. It was also interesting to see how they kept Vern grounded in her humanity.

Sorrowland is like nothing I’ve ever read before and probably anything I will ever read again. The writing is hauntingly beautiful with its in depth descriptions that had me captivated from the very beginning. These make it a slower read but its more than worth it for the stunning picture that River Solomon creates.

I appreciated the inclusion of the Nystagmus and albino elements which I’d never read about before. I enjoyed learning about these along side Verns character and how they impacted her life away from modern medical advances and technology.

The ending let down the book a little, I had expected there to be more of a defined ending. Sorrowland definitely centres more around the journey than the destination and what Vern learns about herself, her family and the world in the process.

Overall I really enjoyed this book and definitely recommend to anyone looking for a slower impactful read, I promise you’ll be so captivated by the writing you won’t be able to put this one down.
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Sorrowland follows Vern as she leaves/escapes from a Cain compound, the early section a mix of forest life with newborn children and flashbacks to previous life. As it becomes clear that Vern is different, her body (for reasons unknown early on) resilient and quick to heal. 

A remarkable highly descriptive and visceral story with the Vern at it's heart. The tale is from Vern's perspective, a first-hand experience of pain, survival, protection of her children whilst exploring the past. A fantastical story of fierce determination.

Genre is difficult to ascribe for those who need such things, I have seen this described as gothic horror which seems to miss so many aspects out. I have read a few of Rivers' short stories before, and will seek out earlier novels.
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The magical and terrifying story of Vern, a woman bruised and defiant in the face of tyranny. Vern escapes a black commune in search of her friend Lucy and is forced into hiding in the nearby woods. As a mother, she discovers hidden depths to her resourcefulness and a fierce and unconventional love for her children.

As her independence grows, she finds disturbing changes to her body which threaten her survival. Yet could those changes, caused by dark forces also prove her salvation?

A story which rails against racism, the patriarchy and conventional relationships and the contempt society shows for difference. A powerful and thought provoking story.

Some tension is lost near the climax as Vern recalls her mother's early struggles and entry into the commune. However, there is much emotional impact in the story, particularly in Vern's relationship with her children and her struggles to achieve intimacy with others.

A story not to be forgotten.
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I’ve never read anything by Rivers Solomon before, but now I definitely want to read more. I didn’t know too much about Sorrowland before I started reading, but the synopsis was very intriguing so I was immediately interested. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book quite like this before, but some elements reminded me of a couple of books I read earlier this year – The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward. Sorrowland is out now, so make sure to check it out if it sounds interesting to you.

Sorrowland is genre-bending: it’s set in America, but has speculative and fantastical elements. It’s an incredibly unique book. I haven’t read much speculative fiction before and it’s a bit hit or miss for me but Solomon does it so well. The main character, Vern, escapes from the religious commune she grew up on and gives birth to twins in the woods. Constantly hunted, she raises her children in the woods and has to come to terms with the mental and physical consequences of leaving behind the horrors of her past. There is so much more to it than that, but my explanations can’t really do the plot justice.

When I first started, I wasn’t sure what direction the book would go in but I quickly became invested in Vern’s story. She is incredibly strong and suffers so much and still maintains her agency with determination. I especially loved seeing how Howling and Feral fit into her life and how they changed throughout their lives. Gogo was also a great character, and she introduced Vern to a new way of living. The characters’ relationships with gender and sexuality were so refreshing to read about: nothing was conventional and I loved how the boundaries of the “norm” were pushed. There are Black, albino, and Native American characters, as well as intersex and sapphic representation.

The concept of Cainland is so chilling in many ways. It is supposed to be a safe haven from the dangers of white supremacy, but there are many sinister going on that manifest alongside abuse. I was really intrigued to find out more details about the founding of Cainland and how it transformed after Eamon Fields took over. There was a lot of information at the end that was so riveting to read about – especially how the fantastical elements fit into the plot. The “hauntings” were really disturbing but I loved how they tied into the plot more cohesively by the end. The dark story is definitely haunting and I couldn’t help but be captivated by the atmosphere.

Thank you again to the publisher for sending me a copy for review! I wasn’t sure what to expect and I was really pleasantly surprised. I really loved Sorrowland and I think it will stick with me for a long time. It’s a dark book, so it won’t be for everyone, but I think the difficult themes were handled so well. Solomon includes these content warnings in the author’s note: “discussion and instances of racism, misogyny, self-harm, suicidality, and homophobia, inclusion of animal death and explicit violence, and references to sexual violence that have taken place off-page”.

4.5/5 stars
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