Rage Is Back Review
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Author Adam Mansbach is probably best known for his hilariously irreverent faux-kids’ book, Go the F**k to Sleep, and its more kid-friendly counterpart, Seriously, Just Go to Sleep. So you might be surprised that his literary talents go well beyond quirky picture books to lyrical narratives like Rage Is Back.

Killroy Dondi Vance is the child of New York City legends. Back in the ‘80s, when graffiti artists spent their nights bombing the subway, Billy Rage and Wren 209 were two of the city’s most notorious “writers.” But then everything fell apart. One night, Billy’s friend, Amuse, was killed by a ruthless cop. And while Dondi’s mom tried to focus her energy on parenting, Billy came unhinged—and, soon afterward, he disappeared.

Now, Dondi is a smart but bitter teen—a self-proclaimed “nerd with swagger” who blames his father for everything that’s gone wrong in his young life. So when Billy returns to New York, Dondi is reluctant to welcome him back. But he soon finds himself caught up in his father’s world, plotting revenge against the man who brought down the “golden era” of graffiti.

Rage Is Back is a distinctive novel, written in a distinctive voice. Its young narrator isn’t always reliable; he has a tendency to ramble, wandering off into tangents and flashbacks with no warning. But there’s something so fascinating about his world—and something so beautiful and melodic about the way in which he describes it—that readers will be happy just to follow along on this wild ride through New York City’s underground.

Still, as you embark on this expedition, you’ll have to hold on tight and pay close attention. The story is filled with eccentric characters—many of whom go by a number of different names. And their voices are often as inconsistent as their handles. One character, for instance, tends to turn his Rastafarian rhythms on and off at will. And Dondi’s voice sometimes feels uneven, often sounding much older (and much more knowledgeable) than his years.

The story, however, is mesmerizing—a literal and figurative trip through the world of these legendary artists, both in their prime and in their quest for closure. And as these aging troublemakers plot their revenge—with some help from their young friend—you’ll be eager to see how their elaborate plan plays out. Though some of the ends are left hanging loose in the end, it’s a mostly satisfying journey, only slightly distracted by some strangely supernatural touches (including a staircase in DUMBO that acts as a portal into tomorrow).

Rage Is Back isn’t an irreverent kids’ book. It’s not just another novel, either. It’s a poetic adventure through a world you’ve most likely never visited—and are unlikely to visit in quite this way again. It may take a little bit of effort, but it’s worth it.

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