“Vern wished to make every moment of her life a rebellion, not just against the Blessed Acres of Cain but the world in all its entirety. Nothing would be spared her resistance.”
In Sorrowland, Vern — a 15-year-old pregnant and abused albino Black girl — escapes a cultish compound. Eventually, she gives birth to twins in the woods. She plans to raise the boys there, far away from the influence of the outside world. Alone with her family and trying to evade capture, Vern becomes savage, all instinct and need.
Something terrifying and strange and powerful is happening to her body as well. She believes it has to do with the drugs forced onto her at Cainland. She grows stronger, feeling nearly invincible until a painful exoskeleton begins forming along her spine. Scared to leave her children alone, Vern takes her small family out of the woods for the first time. They begin a long journey toward the only safe haven she knows. But the Cainland cult is far-reaching, and soon Vern must confront their evil.
With Sorrowland, author Rivers Solomon has created a masterful, genre-defying work of gothic sci-fi horror. Like faer other books and stories, Sorrowland is thought-provoking and ambitious. It focuses on the exploitation of Black bodies in particular but extends its reach to broader people of color including Indigenous people.
Through Vern’s experience at Cainland and beyond, the novel underscores the historical experimentation on and mistreatment of Black people by the US government. The book references the Tuskegee experiments, night doctors and more. It’s about what happens to Black people every day when white colonization and privilege infiltrate their spaces.
Sorrowland also represents characters often on the fringes of society. Vern is an albino intersex woman from a conservative community. She isn’t an easy character to love: strong but defensive and aggressive, smart and strong but afraid of being hurt. Above all, every part of Vern — her Blackness, her albinism, her visual impairment, her intersex identity, her attraction to women — contributes to who she is as a complicated and complex character.
Overall, Sorrowland is a dark and powerful work engaging with gender, disability, race, queerness, power and corruption. Solomon pushes the boundaries of speculative fiction with apparent ease. If Sorrowland moves you, check out faer other work including An Unkindness of Ghosts and The Deep. Lakewood by Megan Giddings features many of the same themes as well.
Sorrowland is available to read now! Pick up a copy at your local independent bookstore or online at Bookshop.org.
TW: body horror, child abuse, cults forced experimentation, gore, homophobia, racism, teen pregnancy, torture, transphobia