“People pay accountants and psychologists to give them power over the here and now, and they pay life coaches, fitness trainers, doctors, and tarot readers so they can control more of the future.”– Brittney Morris, “The Cost of Knowing”
The Cost of Knowing by Brittney Morris was the book I didn’t know I needed to read. I had originally planned to finish it in February, but it took me longer to get through the book because it triggered some serious anxiety. In the story, 16 year old Alex has suffered from visions of the future ever since his parents passed away in a car accident 4 years ago. It’s extremely uncomfortable, but it’s mostly something Alex can dismiss… until he has a vision of his younger brother’s imminent death.
This is a book about dread and anxiety and it is a book about generational trauma and the “accidental” racism that still aggravates that trauma today. There is so much in this book and every single bit of it is essential.
Alex and his brother Isaiah live with their aunt in an affluent neighborhood of Chicago. This neighborhood is mostly white. Just down the street live the Zaccaris, a white family with a retired cop and neighborhood watch father, a stay at home mother, and a teenage son. They’ve always been kind to Alex and Isaiah, even if they are a bit clueless. But their cluelessness paired with their fear and hypervigilance will cost a young man staying in the neighborhood for a concert his life. That kind of attitude costs young black men their lives every. single. day.
We all know someone like the Zaccaris. We have them who show up to our local library, making assumptions about families that don’t look like them and screaming with some sort of martyr complex against books about black and queer experiences. Maybe they don’t shoot black kids who are at the wrong place at the wrong time, but they want parents of queer kids to be arrested for “child endangerment” and they want books about black kids removed from the teen section of the library. The white evangelical fear of “the other” costs lives every. single. day. Children are dead because of the fear these people foster. And that’s what makes books like The Cost of Knowing so damn important, so damn necessary.
This book hits hard. It doesn’t hold back. There were times I had to put it down because I couldn’t deal with the cost of knowing what was going to happen. I knew the outcome and I didn’t want to learn how that would take place. It was so hard to read about Alex knowing that he’d lose his brother and probably his girlfriend too. But for black families, that’s reality when one in every three black men will be incarcerated at some point in their life time, when black children are six times more likely than white children to be shot by police, and when black children are twenty times more likely to be killed by a gun than their white counterparts. No wonder this anxiety relates to so many. I can set it aside by closing the book. Black families live it. They can’t set it aside.
“Joy in the midst of oppression is its own kind of bravery.”– Brittney Morris, “The Cost of Knowing”
- This book will make you uncomfortable. Hopefully that discomfort drives you to push for changes in the statistics I’ve shared above.
- Alex and Isaiah are compelling characters. Their relationship with one another is realistic, as is their relationship with their aunt and Alex’s relationship with Talia.
- This book is about so many aspects of growing up, dealing with fear, and surviving. Everyone can relate in some way.
- This book is not about police brutality. It’s about how this brutality happens from people who don’t ever think it could come from them.
- I’m not sure everyone will get the purpose of the epilogue. It feels unintentionally vague.
I guess as two Black kids fleeing a mass shooting, we looked enough like the “types of people.” We had our hoodies on. Our hoods were up. I should’ve known. I should’ve fucking known.– Brittney Morris, “The Cost of Knowing”
- White families wishing to spark conversation with their teenagers about issues of racial justice
- Those wanting to learn about experiences that are not their own
- Those looking for a “black-boy-joy-despite” book.
Books to Read if You Loved The Cost of Knowing:
Let’s Discuss! (Pick a question and drop a comment with your reply!)
- How are Alex’s words to Karen at the end of the book healing and necessary? Were they appropriate? Does it matter if what is necessary is appropriate?
- How can we destroy the ways that society fosters fear of “the other”?
- What other books have you read that have sparked antiracism in you or your family?