By Barbara Saunders,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Poignant tale of teen girl who turns to sex work to survive.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Presents a naturalistic portrait of poverty and despair in a contemporary American city. It's intended to call attention to the issue of police sexual violence. One character was a Black Panther, and there are brief passages about that group's history in Oakland, California.
With grit and sacrifice, you can survive and take care of your loved ones.
Positive Role Models
The main character is a girl guided by love, determined to save her biological and chosen family members. To do so, she commits crimes.
Main characters are African American teens living in Oakland, California. White and Latino characters also.
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Violence & Scariness
Some very violent and potentially disturbing scenes, including the murder of an infant, an attempted suicide, and multiple rapes, including gang rape and rape at gunpoint.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Sexual intercourse is described in explicit detail multiple times as the main character performs sex work with different men. Hint of a budding romance between the main character and her best friend, another teen girl.
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Strong language includes "f--k," "s--t," "damn," "bitch," "nigga," and "ass."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A pregnant woman uses crack and begs for "the rock and pipe" while giving birth. Teens smoke pot. Underage teens drink beer.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Nightcrawling is the debut novel of Leila Mottley, the 2018 Youth Poet Laureate of Oakland, California, who began writing the book when she was a 16-year-old high school student. She was only 19 on the novel's publication day. Nightcrawling is an adult book -- not a YA novel -- but teens may be interested since the book is an Oprah's Book Club Pick, the author was named a New York Times Writer to Watch, and the main characters are teens. The novel tells the story of 17-year-old Kiara, a high school dropout who turns to sex work to pay the rent after receiving an eviction notice. Eventually, she's sex-trafficked by the local police. (The story is based on true Oakland events.) There are some very violent and potentially disturbing scenes, including the murder of an infant, an attempted suicide, and multiple rapes, including gang rape and rape at gunpoint. Sexual intercourse is described in explicit detail multiple times as the main character performs sex work with different men. There's a hint of a budding romance between the main character and her best friend, another teen girl. Strong language includes "f--k," "s--t," "damn," "bitch," "nigga," and "ass." A pregnant woman uses crack and begs for "the rock and pipe" while giving birth. Teens smoke pot. Underage teens drink beer.
Where to Read
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What's the Story?
When NIGHTCRAWLING begins, 17-year-old Kiara finds an eviction notice on the door of the apartment where she lives with her older brother, Marcus. Both she and Marcus are high school dropouts, due in part to having to support themselves because their father died of cancer and their mother went to prison. After a bartender friend gives Kiara many drinks one night, she goes home with a nightclub patron who pays her for sex. She begins seeking out sex work and ends up with members of the police department as her customers.
Is It Any Good?
This novel is thrilling and poignant, but for mature readers only. In Nightcrawling, debut author Leila Mottley uses her linguistic gifts as a poet to make a beautiful book from a very sad, ugly story based on true events. The main characters are well-rounded enough to be sympathetic even when they make terrible choices. Evil characters are written as believable people, not cartoon villains. Mottley vividly captures the look and feel of the city of Oakland, where she has lived her entire life. A few of the major plot points seem to come out of nowhere, but those leaps tee up page-turning sequences. A romantic subplot seems forced and leaves loose ends.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the theme of sacrifice in Nightcrawling. Is there anything you believe should never be sacrificed?
How does poverty shape the characters' choices in Nightcrawling?
Nightcrawling was based on true events. Why do you think the author chose to present this story as fiction?
- Author: Leila Mottley
- Genre: Contemporary Fiction
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Friendship
- Character Strengths: Compassion, Courage
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Knopf
- Publication date: June 7, 2022
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 0 - 0
- Number of pages: 288
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: June 12, 2022
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
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Where to Read
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