In his debut novel, Turnbull staes an alien invasion in the US Virgin Islands, where extraterrestrial Ynaa join a long line of human colonizers determined to dominate all those that came before.
This is not as much a story of the terror of first contact, but life years later, when some St. Thomas residents have welcomed their new normal and others have reached a point of no return. Derrick dares to extend an olive branch. His young sister, Lee, just wants the distraction of the Ynaa to disappear. Their friend and neighbor Patrice and their grandmother Henrietta face separate crises of faith. Patrice’s mother Aubrey sees possibility while her father, Jackson, clings to scraps of his life before.
But continual unease begins to fester: the gruesome death of a human boy at the hands of a vengeful Ynaa rocks St. Thomas, and the Ynaa ambassador’s mediation feels increasingly futile. As individuals try to stem the tide of violence and terror in a nation so used to paying for its freedom with blood, what began for some as a clear mission for sovereignty warps beyond recognition.
Turnbull’s narrative is measured, calm, until it isn’t, a thundercloud too easily written off until it looms above you. The central, external conflict remains taut and ever-present, even as Turnbull explores the deeply individual experiences of each character with an awareness and love of place rooted in his own history there. What surfaces is an acknowledgement that some horrors only displace the ones that came before, a story of resistance, survival, and hope.
I, for one, am looking forward to more from Turnbull.
On a more personal note: I know Cadwell personally and did receive an advance copy of The Lesson from his publisher in exchange for an honest review. I wish I could say that I had a solid grounding in the history of St. Thomas before reading this book, but approached it armed only with my high school history education. Also, I did actually listen to this title, and very much enjoyed Janina Edwards’s and Ron Butler’s narration.