Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Review by Jules Galgan.

Sometimes you read a book and you think to yourself, “Oh my goodness. Someone sat down and created this absolute masterpiece with nothing but their mind and their research.” Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah is that someone and that book is Chain Gang All Stars. This book was stellar. The story kicks off in a dystopian America in which inmates in the prison system can opt out of their sentence and instead fight other inmates to the death. These fights are put out as entertainment for all and advertised as the newest sport. If the allstars survive their matches for three years, they then earn their freedom. 

Chain Gang All Stars is the perfect bridge between the reality of the prison system in the United States today and a far off dystopian world in which animosity is turned into entertainment for the masses. This made the message all the more powerful as it was both a warning and prophecy. Adjei-Brenyah uses footnotes to cite the sources for real world examples of people who experience the very same things these fictional characters experience, things like solitary confinement and the effects it has on people’s minds, forced labor for next to no pay, forced labor conditions that are dangerous, etc. all with an emphasis on how the prison system disproportionately affects and targets people of color. 

The messages of the book are incredibly powerful, but what really brought it all together for me was how incredible Adjei-Brenyah’s writing is. Throughout the novel, we get to read from many different character’s points of view. Every single point of view was starkly obvious because Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah wrote every word in the style that each character would think. Because of this, you felt as the reader as if you were experiencing each person’s stream of consciousness in a truly intimate way. This book blew my mind. It was educational, stunning, dark, and a brutal warning about the direction our current prison system is sending us in.