When Lena Johnson’s beloved grandmother dies, and the full extent of the family debt is revealed, the black millennial drops out of college to support her family and takes a job in the mysterious and remote town of Lakewood, Michigan.
On paper, her new job is too good to be true. High paying. No out of pocket medical expenses. A free place to live. All Lena has to do is participate in a secret program—and lie to her friends and family about the research being done in Lakewood. An eye drop that makes brown eyes blue, a medication that could be a cure for dementia, golden pills promised to make all bad thoughts go away.
The discoveries made in Lakewood, Lena is told, will change the world—but the consequences for the subjects involved could be devastating. As the truths of the program reveal themselves, Lena learns how much she’s willing to sacrifice for the sake of her family.
Provocative and thrilling, Lakewood is a breathtaking novel that takes an unflinching look at the moral dilemmas many working-class families face, and the horror that has been forced on black bodies in the name of science.
Publication Date: March 24th 2020
Death of a Loved One, Experimentation, Depiction of Blood, Graphic Mutilation, Drugging, Abuse, Violence, Racism
“There are times in your life, Lena knew, where to think actively about what was happening in the moment, what had recently happened, would shatter everything.”
This is something I make known often: I tend to stray away from thrillers. I don’t inherently dislike them— not at all in fact, they just don’t punch me in the gut like they do others. However, this premise as a whole is what made me want to give this a try.
It’s a personal look into Lena, who’s grandmother just died and is left with taking care of her sick mother. That means medical bills, scrapping for money just to get the proper health care as well as college funds and how a convenient opportunity happens upon her… maybe too convenient.
“It forces me to make an assessment about all women. I am a thousand percent sure there are plenty of white women who think America is great to them. But America is only routinely good to women, especially black women, when it wants something from them.”
And while this book very much so had me on edge, there was a lot happening here. If you’ve heard of or read up on the Tuskegee Syphillis Experiments or Henrietta Lacks, this takes great inspiration from that, of the amoral experimentation of black bodies for medical advancement. There’s the discussion on how America treats black people, black women in particular, how when there’s a system financially against you, what you’ll do just to get solid ground.
“You give of yourself to make your country a better place. You give of yourself to keep us safe.”
Yet, the basic premise of this story had a rinse and repeat sort of flow: experiments are conducted, strange things are happening, no one really asks questions (except Lena maybe a few times to her fellow volunteers only to be immediately shut down)… rinse repeat.
And the jumps between Lena before and during her time in the Lakewood project is a bit disjointing at times?? Which I can accost to putting us into the frame of the main character considering she herself is in a disjointing situation, but it was a thing nonetheless.
However, segueing into the main character, I can’t say I connected with her. Of course, as a reader I couldn’t help but want her out of this situation, to sympathize with the weight put on her shoulders taking care of her mother, of growing up faster than most, but on a personal level? Maybe it was the 3rd person POV, maybe it was the drugs she was on changing her, but I could not connect with her the further along we went into the book.
I also have conflicting feelings on her willful ignorance. On one hand, yes, you are put in a financial pickle and this will be a great pay out if you survive. There’s that look on what you do if necessary for your loved ones or even personal means, but… 90% of the time… personally, I would’ve been searching for more answers? Her entire thing was just let me get through this and not let me find out what the hell is happening… discreetly.
I mean… you see most of the participants are POC and you go huh… that’s weird. Hm. Anyway back to these test–
“Her grandmother had said it was better to love your body as much as possible before letting someone else have access to it. That they could permanently damage in unexpected ways how you saw yourself.”
I can appreciate this story never giving you answers, makingn you think for yourself and come to the conclusion even in the end… while simultaneously not liking it? Because like I mentioned above, the second half was weaker than the first, but also it happens so fast and concludes so fast and I couldn’t wrap my head around what happened? We don’t get answers and I’m conflicted.
And yet… even days later this book stayed in my mind. It was poignant and raw and real. I do wish execution was better, but I can’t say I don’t recommend. Give it a shot.