Review: One of the Good Ones

One of the Good Ones sounded like such a timely and powerful story, with elements of mystery and biting social commentary. Naturally, I had to request it and luckily for me the amazing Justine Sha at HarperCollins sent me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

This post was originally published on The Nerd Daily.


When teen social activist and history buff Kezi Smith is killed under mysterious circumstances after attending a social justice rally, her devastated sister Happi and their family are left reeling in the aftermath. As Kezi becomes another immortalized victim in the fight against police brutality, Happi begins to question the idealized way her sister is remembered. Perfect. Angelic.

One of the good ones.

Even as the phrase rings wrong in her mind—why are only certain people deemed worthy to be missed?—Happi and her sister Genny embark on a journey to honor Kezi in their own way, using an heirloom copy of The Negro Motorist Green Book as their guide. But there’s a twist to Kezi’s story that no one could’ve ever expected—one that will change everything all over again.

TW: racism, police brutality, homophobia (religious context), forced drugging, descriptions of lynching, death, grief, fire

My Thoughts:

One of The Good Ones was easily one of the best books I read in 2020 and should be featuring on many similar lists this year. It’s an emotional, impactful and brilliant story that weaves the horrific realities of systematic and structural racism in both the past and present with an utterly compelling mystery.

Right from the start, you know you’re in for a ride, as it opens with an incredibly powerful author’s note. It reminds you that this is not purely a fictional tale, rather one that is repeated time and time again in real life. The media may capture some of the stories, but far more go unnoticed. Behind every hashtag is a person, with all their thoughts, feelings and experiences. Around them is a whole family and community. We must remember all of this and feed it into our activism. There’s a brilliant discussion about respectability politics and who is considered as a ‘perfect victim’. There’s this pervasive idea that we can only care about Black Lives Matter when the victim meets certain toxic requirements, rather than focusing on the loss of life, impact on community and structural violence caused by racist actions.

The book itself is told through a dual narrative that spans Happi, Kezi, and Shaqueria’s individual stories. Eventually all three narratives form together and intersect in surprising ways. Family relationships and the family we find ourselves are both key themes of the novel. We follow a brilliant cast of central characters, all with their own issues to unpack and face. Their journey, both physical and emotional, really hits home, with moments of levity and joy sprinkled through. Every one of them feels like an authentic young person, down to the realistic dialogue and emotional core driving their actions. I liked their complexity and how every character was given time and space to develop and grow over the course of the book. Grief informs a lot of the book and reflecting on my personal experiences, I felt like this was portrayed in a nuanced and believable way, allowing me to create an even deeper emotional connection to the story.

Without giving too much away, this is a really, really good mystery. It’s packed full of genuinely shocking twists and turns. One part in particular made me nearly drop the book in shock. It challenges your expectations and questions who is considered a victim societally, reminding me of the excellent You’re Next by Kylie Schachte and both Grown and Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson. Any YA mystery fans will devour this heart-wrenching, thought-provoking tale that packs an emotional punch and delivers some timely social commentary.

This is a book that shines a light on the ugly truth of both past and present. It both celebrate Black history and reminds us how those awful institutions and attitudes of the past linger on today. They’ve often become far more insidious and hidden, or they’re so deeply entrenched in certain organisations and aspects of society. It reminds us how we have to actively work to change these deep-seated, atrocious ideas. The idea of legacy forms a key aspect of the book and we have to remember the legacy of slavery and how it is still present in our modern-day culture. We cannot settle for surface level equality, it must become engrained in every aspect of society.

One of the Good Ones simply is a book that you cannot miss. It demands to be read and listened to and I would strongly recommend that you do so.

8 thoughts on “Review: One of the Good Ones

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