Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ++
The first time I read William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury I didn’t like it. Quite frankly, I didn’t understand it. Every so many chapters, there would be a chapter of repetition and stream of consciousness that didn’t make sense, and it frustrated me, as I struggled to follow it. Later, while working on my undergraduate degree in English literature, I had to read it for a Modernism class. I remember sighing and procrastinating on starting it because my past experience was clouding my thinking of it. However, as I hit a third of the way through the book, I realized the genius of Faulkner’s book in its use of three points of view. Faulkner doesn’t announce the shift in point of view, so it is confusing at first. Yet, once you realize his intent, you understand his brilliance. You may be curious as to why I am beginning my review of The Not-Outcast by Tijan with a reference to William Faulkner. I worry that readers will start Tijan’s story and miss out on the depth and gravity of her story because the predominant narrator of this book, Cheyenne, can initially feel off-putting. Yet, to stop reading, to reduce Cheyenne’s stream-of-consciousness narration to misunderstanding, will cause you to miss out on the beauty of Cheyenne and Cut’s story. Had I given up a second time on Faulkner, I would have missed the brilliance of his story. In a simple sentence, please read Tijan’s The Not-Outcast, and let it reveal its truths because it will bowl you over.
The emotional gravitas of this book will slay your feelings. Throughout this book, I couldn’t stop crying. To be fair, I cry easily at the hurts of book characters. Yet, Cheyenne’s characterization is complex and thoughtful, and Tijan’s revelation of her truth is profound. Cheyenne is an important character because she represents the aftermath of trauma and abuse. This isn’t in a trigger-warning way, however. This book illustrates mental health issues and the personal struggles associated with them. It is about identity and personal ownership. Cheyenne represents any person who has transcended his/her past and found a future of meaning even when the struggles of the past continue to impede progress. Cheyenne is beautifully drawn in her resilience, tenacity, and humility, and you cannot help but fall in a deep love for her as Cut does.
Honestly, I felt sorry for Cut because Tijan ascribes so much beauty to Cheyenne’s characterization that he feels fundamentally flat. However, the words that Tijan creates for him wrought some of my heaviest tears. Tijan wisely ascribes the tension of this story to Cheyenne’s journey while allowing Cutler to be a safe space. I inhaled their story because I kept waiting for that moment that we, as romance readers, know comes at the eighty percent mark. Instead, Tijan takes a different course, still emotionally devastating, but she uses Cut to neutralize it, and you are endeared to him.
Finally, beyond Tijan’s scope on mental health, there is a bigger and more emotionally insightful aspect to her The Not-Outcast, and it’s the idea of the constructed family, or the made to order family. Tijan plays with this idea throughout the course of her story, and for me, it’s the most impactful part of the book. I refuse to give any more away because this book is so special, and I want everyone to read it. However, its secrets remain with its readers.
I didn’t expect to pick up The Not-Outcast today and read it in practically one sitting. Cheyenne and Cut’s romantic journey is an emotional masterpiece of overcoming the odds. Each turn of the page of their story drew me further and further in, and it reminded me that a first glance never reveals the depth of a story. We must search it out, allowing it to reveal its course on its own. If we do, we are rewarded with stories that touch our hearts and stay with us long after we have finished reading them.
In love and romance,