The cover is interesting, but I would prefer Loretta's hammer on the cover, not a scythe.
Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah has been on my radar since January, when I read a list of the most anticipated 2023 debuts. Adjei-Brenyah has a short story collection out as well, but Chain-Gang was his first novel. It hit shelves in May 2023 and I've seen it on some lists of top reads for the year. I dove in with high expectations.
Chain-Gang All-Stars is like if you mixed the showmanship of pro wrestling, the reality TV/punishment concept of the Hunger Games, and America's broken prison system. Prisoners with greater than 25 year punishments are allowed to enroll in a program where they battle (mostly 1 v 1) to the death. After three years of battles, they can go free (called high freed). If they are killed, that's called low freed. The main character, Loretta Thurwar, is weeks away from freedom, and you follow her, her lover and fellow inmate Staxxx, and occasionally some other characters both inside and outside the system.
This book was very well done. Though it incorporated many POVs, some only seen once or twice, it did a great job at denoting POV changes with separate scenes and didn't head hop. I was kept on the edge of my seat, never knowing for sure who would survive any of the battles. Even without the threat of death, the POVs outside the chain-gang were tense and added so much to the understanding of how this system was allowed to continue and how the world reacted to it. The worldbuilding and character development were very well done.
It's hard to find a downside for me. If you're not a fan of violence, this will be a tough read for you.
This book is for you if you are a fan of the "punishments on TV" concept from The Hunger Games, if you're a prison abolitionist, or if you want to study how doing a multi-POV book can really work. It's not for you if you're not a fan of reading about violence, if you are not in the headspace to read about abusers or rapists (although one character was convicted after killing her rapist, so there's that to balance the scale), or if you're going to be homophobic about the central romance.
Have you read Chain-Gang All-Stars? What did you think about that final scene? Let's discuss in the comments!