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48 pages 1 hour read

Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, Nicola Yoon

Blackout

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2021

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Blackout is a novel told in linked short stories written by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon, published in 2021. The book was the first collaboration between Clayton, Jackson, Stone, Thomas, Woodfolk and Yoon, all of whom are well-known authors in the young adult literature genre. Clayton is credited for first developing the idea for the book, describing the project as its authors’ love letter to New York City and to Black teens.

This guide is based on the Quill Tree Books 2021 Hardcover Edition.

Plot Summary

“The Long Walk: Act 1” follows the lives of narrator, Tammi, a Black teenage girl living in New York City, and her longtime neighbor and now ex-boyfriend, Kareem. Tammi is on her way to her first day as an intern at the Apollo theater, an opportunity that she hopes will benefit her future career in entertainment. At the theater, Tammi is shocked to find her ex, Kareem, has shown up under the impression that he will be the theater’s summer intern. The supervisor at the theater relays the sad news that there has been a clerical error, and only one of them will be awarded in the internship. When they are in the middle of discussing next steps, the power goes out suddenly. They discover that the city is undergoing a blackout, and that they power will likely be out for several hours. His phone nearly dead, so Kareem uses Tammi’s phone to call his friend Twig, whose block party he will be DJing in Brooklyn in the evening. Seeing as they do not have enough money to get a cab to take them back home, Kareem and Tammi begin a long trek through Manhattan to Brooklyn.

The next story, “Mask Off,” is told from the perspective of Jacorey “JJ” Harding, a Black teenage boy living in New York City. At the story’s outset, JJ is remembering the time in sixth grade when he witnessed his friends bully their classmate, Tremaine. It was JJ who eventually freed Tremaine, who suffered from claustrophobia, from the janitor’s closet into which he had been stuffed. In the present day, JJ is staring at Tremaine from across the subway car. The power has just gone out, and all JJ can see are Tremaine’s bright white Air Jordans. While he waits for the lights to come back on, JJ reflects on the past few months, and how he has been exploring his sexual orientation. He remembers how a few weeks ago he attended a queer masquerade ball and ran into Tremaine. After assuming a fake identity to ensure his anonymity, JJ spend the night talking to Tremaine and eventually kissing him at the end of the night. Back in the present day, Tremaine’s condition is growing worse; after 30 minutes, he passes out. JJ jumps to his aid and manages to find an opening through the subway car. JJ carries Tremaine through the dark train tunnel and out onto the platform, where he has more room to breathe. While on the platform, they discuss the night of the masquerade and their experiences with coming to grips with their queer identities. Tremaine forgives JJ for lying about who he was at the party, and tells him that he looks forward to getting to know him more.

In “The Long Walk: Act 2,” Kareem and Tammi continue on the journey to Brooklyn. As they walk, they talk about their college plans. Tammi reveals that she is planning on attending school in Atlanta. When Kareem asks to make a call from her phone again, Tammi is annoyed, assuming that he wants to call his new girlfriend. As they argue about the phone, Tammi feels grateful that they have broken up and that she is leaving the city so she can be far away from Kareem.

In “Made to Fit,” narrator Nella is visiting her Grandpop at his retirement home when she is shocked to discover that Joss has come by with her dog. Joss, a beautiful girl Nella’s age, is well-loved among the seniors and the very reason that Nella avoids visiting on Tuesdays. When Pop starts to tell the story of how he met his late wife Zora in the NYC blackout of 1977, he reaches for her photo in his wallet only to discover that it is missing. Nella and Joss offer to look for the photo, and proceed to scour the home for the precious item. As they search, Nella and Joss get to know one another. From their conversations it is revealed that both Nella and Joss identify as queer, with Nella still reeling from the recent rejection of her best friend Bree, who is straight. Though Nella is self-conscious and does not possess a positive self-image, Joss helps her to see that she is a kind and beautiful person. Feeling brave, Nella initiates a kiss that Joss reciprocates, and Pop accidentally walks in on. Downstairs with everyone else, Nella invites Joss to Twig’s block party.

In “The Long Walk: Act 3,” Kareem and Tammi are still making their way through Manhattan. Still annoyed that Kareem keeps needing her phone, Tammi discovers that Kareem is worried about his grandmother, who lives in a retirement home and does not like being in the dark. To help him, Tammi calls her mother and asks her to check in on Kareem’s grandmother for him. While on a busy street, Tammi collides with a man, accidentally shattering his phone. When the man gets aggressive, Kareem gears up for a fight. Before he can take a swing, Tammi leads him away from the area. They end up on the steps of the New York Public Library, eating free ice cream and talking about Kareem’s dad, who is about to get remarried. During the chat, Tammi brings up their own breakup. In a moment of confusion, each party seems to think that the other was responsible for the breakup, which was never made official. Needing to use the bathroom, they try to get into the library only to discover that it is locked.

In “All the Great Love Stories…and Dust,” narrator Lana is sneaking around the New York Public Library with her best friend, Tristán. The library is closed due to the blackout, but Lana has plans of confessing her love to Tristán before they head to Brooklyn for a block party. While waiting for their car to arrive, they take turns looking for the perfect book to present to one another. Tristán does not take it seriously and picks a Dr. Seuss book. In the darkness of the library, Lana asks Tristán if he could ever love her in a romantic way. They are in the middle of the discussion when they are discovered by a security guard, who forces them to leave the library. Outside, Tristán tells Lana that he has always been in love with her, and they share a passionate kiss.

In “The Long Walk: Act 4,” Tammi and Kareem are still walking toward Brooklyn when they come across a crowd dancing to Bob Marley in the street. They join in on the fun until Tammi pulls away suddenly, afraid that she might give into her urge to kiss Kareem. As they continue walking, they talk about school, and specifically why Tammi chose not to go to NYU, her first-choice school. Tammi is unable to provide a sufficient answer. When a double-decker bus passes them by, they realize too late that Tammi’s father was driving the bus, and likely could have taken them to Brooklyn.

In “No Sleep Till Brooklyn,” Kayla, the narrator, is sitting on a double-decker bus driving through Manhattan. Though she is next to her boyfriend, Tre’Shawn, the two get separated by their teacher when she catches them kissing. This worries Kayla given that Tre’Shawn ends up next to Micah, her crush and the boy she nearly kissed the other day. Sitting next to her best friend, Jazmyn, Kayla realizes that Jaz might be in love with Tre’Shawn. She asks her about it but does not get an answer because they are interrupted by an argument between Tre’Shawn and Micah. The teacher rearranges the seats again and Kayla ends up next to Micah. They have a nice conversation and she realizes that she really does have feelings for him, which prompts her to get out of her seat and move to the lower level. She chats with the bus driver, Mr. Wright, who tells her to follow her heart. When Tre’Shawn joins her, she asks that they take a break from the relationship, a suggestion that he supports. Mr. Wright promises the kids that he will take them across the Brooklyn Bridge, which they have always dreamed of seeing, and to a block party that his kids are attending.

In “The Long Walk: Act 5,” Tammi and Kareem finally make it to the Brooklyn Bridge. Tammi’s intense fear of heights keeps her from crossing without difficulty, and she ends up having a panic attack. Kareem carries her to a bench and consoles her. While there, he reveals that he will also be attending Clark Atlanta and that he is no longer dating Imani. To her surprise, Kareem tells Tammi he is still in love with her. They share a passionate kiss moments before the power comes back on in Manhattan.

In “Seymour and Grace,” Grace is sitting in a car on the way to a block party in Brooklyn, where she plans to confront her ex, Derrick. Seymour, her driver, is listening to a philosophy podcast loudly, so she asks him to turn it down. After a while she feels guilty about the request, so she engages him in conversation. Halfway through the ride Seymour realizes that he has run out of gas. Unable to drive the rest of the way, he offers to walk Grace to the block party, which she reluctantly agrees to. On the walk, they get to know each other more, talking about their lives and personal interests. Once at the party, Seymour asks Grace if she would like to go out sometime, but before she can answer she is whisked away by her friend Lana. Grace finds Derrick and rather than confront him, she has a polite conversation. After leaving him to his girlfriend, Grace looks around for Seymour, hoping to catch him before he leaves. She finds him in the crowd and tells him she wants to go out after all. 

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