Title/Author: The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
In a nutshell (Publisher):
An electrifying novel about the meteoric rise of an iconic interracial rock duo in the 1970s, their sensational breakup, and the dark secrets unearthed when they try to reunite decades later for one last tour.
“Feels truer and more mesmerizing than some true stories. It’s a packed time capsule that doubles as a stick of dynamite.” —The New York Times Book Review
“One of the most immersive novels I’ve ever read….This is a thrilling work of polyphony—a first novel, that reads like the work of an old hand.” —Ta-Nehisi Coates, New York Times bestselling author of The Water Dancer and Between the World and Me
* A Most Anticipated Selection By * O, The Oprah Magazine * Vogue * Elle * Good Morning America * Washington Post * Entertainment Weekly * Essence * PopSugar * BookRiot * Goodreads * Literary Hub * Parade * Ms. Magazine * The Millions *
Opal is a fiercely independent young woman pushing against the grain in her style and attitude, Afro-punk before that term existed. Coming of age in Detroit, she can’t imagine settling for a 9-to-5 job—despite her unusual looks, Opal believes she can be a star. So when the aspiring British singer/songwriter Neville Charles discovers her at a bar’s amateur night, she takes him up on his offer to make rock music together for the fledgling Rivington Records.
In early seventies New York City, just as she’s finding her niche as part of a flamboyant and funky creative scene, a rival band signed to her label brandishes a Confederate flag at a promotional concert. Opal’s bold protest and the violence that ensues set off a chain of events that will not only change the lives of those she loves, but also be a deadly reminder that repercussions are always harsher for women, especially black women, who dare to speak their truth.
Decades later, as Opal considers a 2016 reunion with Nev, music journalist S. Sunny Shelton seizes the chance to curate an oral history about her idols. Sunny thought she knew most of the stories leading up to the cult duo’s most politicized chapter. But as her interviews dig deeper, a nasty new allegation from an unexpected source threatens to blow up everything.
Provocative and chilling, The Final Revival of Opal & Nev features a backup chorus of unforgettable voices, a heroine the likes of which we’ve not seen in storytelling, and a daring structure, and introduces a bold new voice in contemporary fiction.
“I drank her in, I mean really looked at her – all her vibrant colors, the sparkle on her eyelids, her dimensions and sharp edges. Her rarity. It put me in mind of a gemstone…a jewel. Opal Jewel.”
The Final Revival of Opal & Nev is fictional oral story about Opal and Nev, told in a style very much like, yes, as many have mentioned, Daisy Jones, which I enjoyed. Opal, bold, bald and black, “A punk warrior goddess“; Neville (Nev) melancholic, maudlin, melodramatic; two very opposite individuals whose fate brought them together. Rumor had it that Nev and Opal were planning to get together to perform for a 2016 reunion concert, and music journalist, S. Sunny Shelton, who was also the daughter of drummer Jimmy Curtis, Opal & Nev’s drummer, was writing their story in a series of interviews to be written as a book, while also trying to find the truth to what happened to her father on that fateful evening.
Opal & Nev centered around music and systemic racism in the 70’s, sex, drugs, rock and roll, and what it meant to be a Black woman then in the music industry. “Being a nigger in this country during the 1960s meant that you constantly lived with the possibility of violence.”
But you’d soon realize, it hasn’t changed much since. Opal was judged, mistreated, misunderstood; called names, abused mentally and physically, was told she could never succeed, but she bounced back, every, single, time. She rocked her life her way, on her own terms, but also rolled with the punches and did what she needed to do, to show the world who she was and prove the naysayers wrong. Unfortunately, because of her skin color, she had to work extremely hard for her to achieve her dreams. And when she demanded for what she deserved, “folks seemed to think I was a terrorist”, that she was being “ungrateful”. But that didn’t deter her from achieving her dreams. It simply made her stronger, to go all out and fight for her rights and her voice to be heard. “My armor was me, by best asset. It kept me protected in this world. A world that either hated me or just didn’t know what to do with me.”
I thought, overall, this was a strong debut; while its delivery style has been compared to Daisy Jones, this book has a whole different story to offer – one I found that was strong, relevant and timely. I loved reading about Nev’s journey leading to meeting Opal, which was one of my favorite parts of the book – how Nev insisted that she was THE one he wanted to be working with, the lengths he went through to get her to sign the contract and how she played hardball despite wanting to accept the offer desperately. It was fun, funny and entertaining. I think it was when the spotlight was all on Opal, her character shone brilliantly.
The peak of the story for me, was the Rivington riot, which was done really well – the chaos, the biker-gang, the Confederate flag and the incident that led to Jimmy’s death; it was all riveting and felt so real – how ‘justice’ was interpreted by those in power towards the white and people of color – why were the bikers not apprehended? Why was Opal the only one being judged for her actions? What about those who started it? Others who were involved?
In Opal’s words,
“I remember now. Because it didn’t matter that I was violently offended, that I had been a victim, that as a human being I deserved respect. When the fighting started, all I did was try to defend myself and Jimmy, but that didn’t matter either. All that mattered was that there was a hospital full of injured and pissed-off white folks, and thousands of dollars in property damage, and a nigger they thought couldn’t take a joke.”
I thought, wow, this was it. The story was about to take off. Unfortunately, everything slowed down here onwards. There wasn’t much going on except for the recollections of that event and The Photo from the interviewees.
But my patience paid off when the paced picked up at the end, although the build-up to the most-anticipated reunion felt a little slow. I thought the ending and how everything came together – the reunion, stage, the performance, the racket that took place, and the resolution at the end, won me over.
What deterred me from fully enjoying this novel though, was its characterization. I found there were too many recollections from the past, not only from the main characters but also various sources involved, so much so at times it felt a little dragged, and characterization was compromised because of it.
While I enjoyed and appreciated the distinctive voices of some of the characters, especially Opal, Virgil (Opal’s stylist) and Nev, I found my interest and focus waning a little whenever they weren’t in the story. I also wanted more exploration of the characters, to help me empathize a little more, to feel their anger and frustrations for the injustice they experienced, to feel part of their story and the band, but I somehow felt detached. Also, maybe more on Opal’s relationship with Jimmy, since he was the reason that drove Sunny to write this story and that he had a special relationship with Opal.
Overall, a strong debut; one I didn’t fall head over heels with, but didn’t regret reading either. Would I recommend it? Yes, if you loved Daisy Jones style of storytelling, and that you’re a patient reader, patient enough to wait for a good ending.
Thank you NetGalley and the publisher for a free eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are mine.
Have you read this book? What did you think? If you haven’t, do you intend to? Please share with me your thoughts!