Opal is a fiercely independent young woman pushing against the grain in her style and attitude. She believes she can be a star. So when the aspiring British singer/songwriter Neville Charles discovers her, she takes him up on his offer to make rock music together.
But just as she’s finding her niche as part of a flamboyant and funky creative scene in 1970s New York City, a rival band brandishes a Confederate flag at a promotional concert where Opal and Nev are performing.
Opal’s bold protest and the violence that ensues set off a chain of events that will not only change the lives of those she loves. But also act as a deadly reminder that repercussions are always harsher for women, especially Black women, who dare to speak their truth.
*This ARC was provided by Quercus Books, please read our disclaimer policy for more information*
Have you ever read a book and genuinely believed you were reading someone’s truth?
That every word…every anecdote…every small significant memory mentioned, was a part of the life story being told within the pages?
This was that book. It was THAT book.
I CANNOT believe this is fiction.
So, Dawnie Walton is a genius. An absolute genius.
If you’re reading this review – sit down and get comfortable. This is a long one.
Composed of interviews, a fictional story is created about an interracial punk rock duo. This story is layered with multiple themes of racism in the music industry, stereotypes, cultural understanding, Black Pain vs Black Joy, institutional racism, and much more. Woven together a symphony is birthed into the story of ‘The Final Revival of Opal and Nev’. However, wrapped in all these layers is a profound message of speaking your truth.
This is a fiction meeting journalism. Journalism meeting feminism. Feminism meeting racism. An intricate conversation into misogynoir and how it manifests in all areas of life from music to fashion.
Opal was this manifestation.
Where do I even begin? I think this is the first review I’ll have to break in subheadings in order to truly explore this book…there’s just so much to unpack.
Firstly, there were interviews with so many different people. From university girlfriends to music producers…Dawnie really must have spent AGES plotting this book to make sure everyone was positioned correctly. The fact this is entirely fiction blows my mind. The writing was clear and concise. Every now and then, we would have the author’s voice pop back into the story. But I loved how every character had a personal connection to this book.
The only downfall, and why it dropped a star for me, was the very slow start. I really struggled to get into and almost put it down a few times. However, after about 80 or so pages, once Opal and Nev became a duo, I became invested in the story. Something told me to keep reading and I’m so glad I did. I never would have discovered Opal’s truth if I didn’t.
I loved the exploration of music throughout this book. Dawnie inserted an iconic Black woman into a piece of musical history that either doesn’t acknowledge or simply discourages, Black people from shining. How many Black punk rock musicians can you name?
I, personally, can name one – Jimi Hendrix
But, I’m aware that more must exist.
I mean, arguably, Black people were fundamental to the creation of the genre.
The musical journey both Opal and Nev went through were so different. Opal began singing at Church with her sister before doing odd shows. Whereas, Nev, was pushed into it by his Mum. Very different upbringings surrounding music but they both ended up in the exact same place. I think it’s even more interesting how the music industry treated Opal in comparison to Nev.
We got to see all the corruption within the music industry. The way money was valued over quality. Producers went with what was popular rather than what was good. I liked how all the music industry characters were so different. Some were selfish, good-hearted, talented. But, they were all flawed by their refusal to stand up to racism.
“An illusion that I was unstoppable, that I was supreme, that I could play as white and as male, as any of them who wanted a thing and set out to have an it.”
Up until that showcase, music had eradicated the differences between Nev and Opal. When they performed together, she felt just as powerful as him, in every sense. Perhaps, that is down to the special nature of music and how it can unite even the most difficult of people. Music doesn’t seen gender nor does it see colour. Anyone can perform Jazz, Blues, Rap and even Punk Rock.
This duo revealed how the nature of music is void of racism but the actual industry, alongside wider society, is rife with it. And that all it takes is one person to focus on themselves for racism to poke its way into the beauty of music – tainting its very nature.
Opal vs Nev:
Opal is truly a badass. Like…if there’s one character you wish existed…it would be her. She is the definition of staying truth to who you are, regardless of what life throws at you. Dawnie wrote her character extremely well.
I could just picture this bald-headed Black woman wearing the most magnificent outfits (kinda like Lady Gaga). And constantly, making statements that make people uncomfortable. She doesn’t care and she won’t hide what she’s thinking to placate others. She’ll speak up for what she believes in.
I think it’s interesting how she was paired with Nev. Her opposite in every sense. A white man who, at first, tries his best to be an ally to her. He doesn’t try to silence her. In fact, it seems that Nev reaffirms and supports what she believes in. However, it almost seemed like he was playing dumb. His actions had catastrophic consequences and whilst, I won’t talk about it because it may destroy the plot. It is crucial as to why he wasn’t much of an ally.
It became quite clear to me that Nev relied on the system – whether he realised it or not. He relied on a system that was built on the inferiority of others. His privilege allows him to never be perpetuated as a bully or the cause, but rather the victim. Nevertheless, it is uncertain as to whether he knew what that would mean for his counterpart, Opal.
For instance, the fact that his song about black pain, which he wrote for Opal as a way to say he understands her struggle, won multiple awards. Opal states she hates the song because it reiterates Black pain, rather than focusing on Black joy.
The fact it won awards, shows just how much society focuses on Black pain…I mean we see it now.
12 Years a Slave, When They See Us, Roots. Netflix has even picked up a film called ‘Two Distant Strangers’ where a Black man relives the same morning repeatedly. He is brutally killed by a police officer, in horrific displays of police brutality. And it was Oscar Nominated…
Black trauma at its finest.
Yet, it’s only a reiteration of a system built on the inferiority of others. Of making sure others are kept lower than those in privileged positions. It’s how institutional racism works.
“Why are you so deeply invested in proving I’m scared? Does Black people showing they’re scared make you feel safer? I suggest you sit back and interrogate that.”
What she said.
Opal the Icon:
This book is so iconic. Through this duo, she shows how institutional racism works and how it is built on keeping minorities as inferior. She decides to focus on Opal rather than the actual duo, because she realises that for decades women, especially Black women, have been silenced. Opal was silenced. Opal’s thoughts and feelings were disregarded repeatedly by all those in the music industry. Only with Jimmy Curtis, the Black drummer that Opal fell in love with, did Opal feel seen.
“I could resist the typical narratives: that Black people don’t sell, that our stories don’t appeal to the so-called mainstream…I wanted to curate this story standing on the premise that the lives and legacies of Black man cannot be reduced to the awful shit white men do to them…the voice of Black women like Opal should be discounted or diminished in deference to those who have hijacked our shine whenever it suits.”
Dawnie Walton argues that Black people have stories that aren’t reliant on others. They have stories that devoid of racism, trauma and pain. And these stories will see and do just as well, if you give them a chance. More often than not, these truths are the core of certain events. They reveal so much about the world we live in today and the tomorrow we want.
Can you argue that Opal was the focal point of this duo? That she helped Nev shine? That she brought something different to the stage as a Black woman?
I’d go so far as to say that Nev used her as a springboard for his success.
I can’t not talk about how misogynoir results in a stereotype, where Black women are painted as strong. Or as dominant people. Women that are apparently more masculine than feminine because they’re outspoken. They’re presented as resiliant because they spent the majority of their life fighting for equality. Both for their gender and race. Opal touches on how these stereotypes can box you in. How they can dictate how others see you. They stop you from being versatile…and from being seen as having a softer side.
Whilst, I do appreciate that Black women are probably the strongest individuals I know.
I also resent the stereotype with everything inside of me.
“Now, I know that I come off militant, hard…that doesn’t mean I didn’t yearn sometimes to be other things too…those labels they’d used to define me back home…they felt like traps dropping down on my head.”
As Dawnie Walton hints at, yes, we will speak up about racism and feminism. We come across as strong because we have to. But we also like to speak about fashion, music, movies, traveling etc. Being a Black woman is not synonymous with pain. It isn’t synonymous with solely speaking about inequality.
The minute you assume that’s all we do – you have aided in trying to entrap us within a stereotype.
You can argue that I’ve looked too deeply into this book but I truly don’t think I have. There’s so much more I want to say. So much I would love to point out. The stereotyping of Black people in general. Fashion. Religion.
All I can really say is that you need to read it for yourself. I’ve heard that if you loved Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, then you’ll love how this is written.
This book is pure genius.
In over 300 pages, Opal became my role model.
A true inspiration.