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Caleb Azumah Nelson and Dawnie Walton have both written music-inspired novels.

By David Canfield and Leah Greenblatt
March 30, 2021 at 10:00 AM EDT
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open water, the final revival of opal & Nev
Credit: simon and schuster; grove atlantic

Open Water, by Caleb Azumah Nelson

Styled as a lyrical second-person letter, this emotionally rich debut tells a budding love story against backdrops of Black culture, joy, and pain. In the course of a year, a young London photographer bonds with his ex's friend, a dancer and literature student, over matters of art and love; they go to restaurants, watch movies, discuss the world around them. Romance is in the air, too, as they get to work on a visual project capturing Black life in the city.

Open Water lives in the here and now, steeped in modern reference points — filmmaker Barry Jenkins figures in, both literally and aesthetically, in addition to Kendrick Lamar — and, at about 150 pages, is slim enough to absorb in one intense sitting. B+ —David Canfield

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, by Dawnie Walton

An ebony-skinned girl from Detroit and a flame-haired British folkie come together in the New York music scene of the early 1970s. After two cult albums and a sudden tragedy, their brief moment fades — until a journalist with a deeply personal connection to their past decides to revisit the story.

Like Taylor Jenkins Reid's enormously popular Daisy Jones & the Six, Dawnie Walton's debut novel uses oral history as the form for her kaleidoscopic tale, though she can hardly be contained by it. The book bursts with fourth wall breaks and clear-eyed takes on race, sex, and creativity that Walton (a former EW staffer) unfurls in urgent, endlessly readable style. —Leah Greenblatt

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