50 pages 1 hour read

N. K. Jemisin

The City We Became

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2020

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Chapters 3-6Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Chapter 3 Summary: “Our Lady of (Staten) Aislyn”

Aislyn Houlihan—aka Staten Island—fights off a panic attack as she boards the Staten Island ferry bound for Manhattan. She fears Manhattan, “the city,” a place very different from the familiar suburbs of her native island. Crushed by the mob of passengers and mistakenly touched by a stranger, a Black man, she screams and runs off the ferry, fleeing the terminal until she is stopped and calmed by a stranger, a White woman. While Aislyn talks to her father—a racist cop—on the phone, the woman touches passengers coming off the ferry. Aislyn can see that her touch infects these people with thin white tendrils. Although Aislyn fears the city, she secretly longs for the life of sophistication and excitement it offers, away from a life under her parents’ overprotective roof.

Aislyn is now closely tied to the other four boroughs—to a newly “rebirthed” city—and the Woman in White is unable to infect her. Trying a different strategy, the woman preys upon Aislyn’s feelings of loneliness and neglect by invoking Staten Island’s reputation as the bastard stepchild of all the boroughs. She addresses Aislyn by her true name, Staten Island, and Aislyn knows it’s true. Earlier in the day, she heard the call of the other boroughs summoning her; this is the reason she tried to board the ferry in the first place.

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