******Spoilers, Spoilers, Spoilers, Spoilers******
My review will contain spoilers so please skip down to the BOTTOM LINE to avoid them.
I tried to like this book. I really did. I enjoyed "Midnight: A Gangsters Love Story" enough to pre-order this book and read it within a week of receiving it. Let's just say what set up for an intriguing premise was destroyed at least 150 pages before the book was even finished.
Midnight And The Meaning of Love picks up right where A Gangsters Love Story left off. Akemi, the 16 year old wife of Midnight has been kidnapped by her Japanese father, and of course the young Sudanese Ninja vows to do whatever it takes to get her back. The book has three sections, with about 16-20 chapters each. The first section takes place in Brooklyn, the second in Japan, and the third in Korea.
The Brooklyn section is more or less filled with preparation for Midnight to go to Japan and take back his bride. While he organizes his plan though, he also takes time to play basketball with his friends, meet Santiago (Winters father from Coldest Winter Ever), train with his sensi, lust after Bangs, and move his family (his 7 year old sister and his non-english speaking mother) from their apartment in Brooklyn. It's a slow but necessary read and for the most part really helps to paint the mindset of Midnight before making his journey across the globe.
The second section kicks off once Midnight boards a plane to Japan where he meets several teenage girls; one of them a half black-half Korean ninja named Chiasa that Midnight hires to be his tour guide and translator. She impresses him with her knowledge of fighting and her quick intelligence and this lays the foundation for the love triangle that takes place later in the story. Sister Souljah goes into great lengths to explain every single detail of Japan through the eyes of Midnight, which includes brief introductions into history, language, fashion, and culture. Midnight also finds out more about Akemi's father and mother which helps him form a strategy for safely finding and retrieving his wife. Built like an odyssey with many trials and obstacles, Midnight encounters many people along the way that could be friend or foe, but ultimately finds a way to get his wife back. The reunion doesn't last as a new set of circumstances emerge which forces him to travel to Korea.
Midnight and his hired mercenary teenage comrade Chiasa travel to Korea to finally complete the mission of getting Akemi, and alleviate the other set of issues they have encountered on the way. This is also the setting where Midnight and Chiasa fall in love, and Midnight goes through a Mission Impossible-like courtship to win her hand and take her as his second wife.
This is the premise of the book. 14 year old Midnight (Souljah rarely mentions his age in the book. Likely to not remind the reader how young he is) travels to Japan to find his 16 year old wife that was kidnapped by her father and returns a few weeks later with two wives. If this isn't the most ridiculous plot ever...
The first book, though reaching on so many levels, was decent enough of a read to me. Obviously Midnight is bred differently from most boys so I gave SS the benefit of the doubt when it came to his "love story" with Akemi as well as his character arch in the first novel. But with this book, I was hoping it would take that next step and explain how 14 year old Midnight, who married a woman he couldn't communicate properly with, had turned into a drug dealer without a wife anywhere in sight during Coldest Winter Ever.
I re-read a portion of Coldest Winter Ever in preparation for this book. Specifically, I read the letters between Midnight and Souljah. In those letters, Midnight was CLEARLY trying to date Souljah. Also, at the end of the book he was married - Souljah never stated who he was married to - but one would assume it was with Akemi, before this book added a second wife.
The end of "Meaning of Love" has Midnight married to two teenage women, who are both pregnant with his children (Akemi pregnant with twins) which means that Midnight was not only a married man, but a father during Coldest Winter ever. That is, of course, unless his wives never had the children (miscarriage, or death being the only real solutions since their faith and happiness wouldn't allow for abortion). Souljah never explains this loose end although the very last page of "Meaning of Love" does end on sort of a cliffhanger, suggesting that Midnight is in prison. Will she write a third novel to finally connect the dots between 14 year old Midnight, and the Midnight we all grew to love during Coldest Winter Ever? I doubt it, and even if she did, after reading over 1,000 pages of these two books I don't even care anymore.
I never cared for a sequel to Coldest Winter Ever, it ended perfectly where it was. But when Souljah announced a prequel for Midnight, I got excited because I thought it would help explain the mysterious character. These past two books have, in a way, but they created more questions than answers which is a problem. If you go into these books looking for Souljah to help bridge the stories then you will be very disappointed.
But honestly, the two star rating doesn't come from Souljah being purposely ambiguous. It came from the complete ridiculousness of the plot as it progressed. The more I read, the more Souljah digressed from realism and logic. Sure, to read the first book you had to suspend your disbelief. But this book was so unrealistic, hypocritical, and drowned in minutiae that it became flat out laughable the more I read. Let's just look at some of the issues here that completely destroyed the story.
Midnight is a hypocrite. He speaks about his over-protection of his younger sister and how the men of his faith will select a husband for her, but yet he seems appalled by the fact that Akemi's father doesn't approve of her marriage. He at no point ever thinks that a father had a right to be completely against the idea of his 16 year old daughter marrying some 14 year old kid from another country that doesn't even speak the same language. Yet he is in complete support of arranged marriages carried by the men of his faith. I'm sure Midnight would kill the first 14 year old that tried to talk to his sister when she was 16.
To further expound on how much a hypocrite he is, just look at his actions. He constantly spoke of how women were led by their emotions. He'd refer to them as emotional creatures, while suggesting he was a logical one (he mentions it so often it almost seems like an insult to women). Yet, he falls in love with a woman in 2 or 3 days while he is SUPPOSE to be looking for his wife. And in a weeks time, he was marrying her. He literally married two different girls in a month. One of them not speaking his language and the other one he had known for a week, if that. The pacing in this story is poor so you don't get a good sense of time.
Soulja tries to clean this up by expounding on how Chiasa and Midnights souls were connected and how Midnight picked up on her true intentions, but there is no amount of intuition and observation in this world that could make his decision to take both of these women as wives seem logical instead of emotional. He was more emotional than any of these women he constantly referred to as being led by emotion.
His advice to a friend on women is that he should ask himself would he kill for her before pursuing her; in the first few minutes of meeting her. Hmm. Is this not an overly emotional question Midnight asks himself when deciphering if he likes a woman enough to pursue her? Why was he willing to kill for Bangs, even though he didn't pursue her?
In addition to Midnights hypocrisy and judgements, which became annoying quick (If you're American, you will be offended. Just accept it), the reader has to deal with Souljah's writing, which also quickly becomes an issue. It's not that her prose is bad. Some of her descriptions are beautiful and many of the metaphors and dialog are quote-worthy, but there is no way there is enough content in this book for it to span 600 pages. The book should be around 450, but it is filled with about 150 pages of filler. Mostly, descriptions of clothes or rooms or scenery. I understand that this is Soujah's way of painting the setting, but she lazily does this by showering the book with pages and pages of excess detail about what Akemi is wearing or what Chiasa is wearing or what he is wearing.
Honestly, Midnight in this book talks or thinks about fashion about as much as he talks or thinks about his faith. It's as if when Souljah writes about what someone is wearing, she reverts back to writing from Winters point of view from Coldest Winter Ever. Midnight turns into Winter when it comes to explaining what someone is wearing. It's tedious to read because it happens far too often and really halts the action. I had to consciously force myself to not skip past the walls of description when I felt them coming. And what is the point of including pictures in the book if you're still going to write every detail? Including pictures already is hit or miss because it can take away from the reader being able to interpret the book how their mind see's fit (would having pictures of Winter be helpful or detrimental to your enjoyment of Coldest Winter Ever?), but details on top of pictures just seems like overkill.
It's not just that, but in general Souljah seems out of her element writing about other cultures. She did well with the Muslim faith (although towards the end of the book it bordered on evangelicalism), and even though it's easy to tell she researched passionately and wanted to teach culture in this book, you never share her enthusiasm while reading. At least I didn't. The way she had Midnight learning a new word or describing a new place became much too formulaic and dry for me to care much about it. Parts of the book were painfully, PAINFULLY, boring because of this.
Unfortunately, even the action was pretty boring. I found myself WANTING to skip the sex scenes and didn't feel much tension during scenes that were suppose to be suspenseful. The problem with the suspense in this book is Souljah destroyed any sense of vulnerability in the first section of the story. Midnight defeats his sensi at the dojo with ease at the beginning of the story.
The man that is suppose to be far beyond skill and wisdom, Midnight defeats and sort of shrugs it off. It's that "whatever" attitude from Midnight that makes it impossible for the reader to ever feel any doubt when it comes to him being in trouble. He's pretty much perfect. He always knows what to do. Never panics. Never makes a mistake. Never sleeps. And when he is caught off guard, it's something simple and cute, like some girls sticking something on his leg while he is sleeping. If the guy never is fearful of his own life when he is in a battle, why should the reader ever fear for it? What's the point of a battle when there is no danger?
Most journeys present challenges that seem insurmountable. There is intense training, multiple battles, and defeats that end in lessons. From Star Wars to Kill Bill to The Matrix to Remember The Titans. There are setbacks and character developments that help complete the coming of age story.
Midnight never gets defeated in the story. Every challenge, he takes down swiftly and easily. Maybe if I was reading about Superman (my least favorite super hero) then this would be acceptable, but when the sensi says "you are not ready" yet Midnight still defeats all of his opponents easily, then it's really bad storytelling. Even the wisdom that Chiasa says to Midnight about trust, which you think will mean something, doesn't mean anything.
Midnight becomes a boring character the more Souljah makes him perfect and refuses to let him take a loss. Every woman wants him. Every guy is either intimidated or defeated by him. And even his mother accepts everything he does. She never chastises him (she praises him bringing home two wives instead of one) and submits to his full authority and leadership as if he is her husband. Do I have to remind you that he is 14?
One of the reasons I was excited to read these prequels was because of the letters Midnight wrote to Souljah. It revealed that Midnight could be defeated, and could be broken, and could doubt himself, and show some of the basic characteristics that make us human. This book, sadly, doesn't emphasis any of this. He's just a perfect Muslim that has perfect sex (making virgins experience orgasms, for instance...even though they are VIRGINS and he is supposedly huge) and can defeat the U.S. Army without breaking a sweat.
That last sentence is not a joke. Midnight manages to defeat a special unit in the U.S. military in some strange courtship which leads to him marrying Chiasa. I laughed out loud during this chapter and it was precisely the chapter where I gave up on trying to take the book seriously. I didn't care anymore after this. I continued reading, but I seriously didn't care anymore. I've read Souljah speak on Midnight and it seems like he is an ideal for her. An ideal of what a man should be. Maybe even her perfect fantasy for a man. Tall, good at basketball, dark, handsome, protective, religious, family oriented, martial artist, fashion guru, with a big penis. Yet somehow, she turned him down in Coldest Winter ever when it looked like he was looking for wife number 3. Ok so she turned him down for dealing drugs. I accept that. That was actually interesting. I just wonder why she didn't carry those conversations over to this story.
For as much as this book talks about love (and Souljah takes a lot of page space talking about love), this book sadly lacks a true heart. Teenagers falling in love should not feel this perfect and obstacle free. Akemi and Chiasa accept each other so easily, and the way Souljah explains it away is that it's because they aren't American. Trust me, as you read the explanations given for why Chiasa and Akemi accept sharing a 14 year old husband (a diary), you'll be wondering just like I am what exactly is the message in this story. What is the meaning of love? Sacrifice? Submissiveness? Allah? The plot isn't satisfying enough to give you any real conclusive feeling about the authors thoughts. Except that non-American women are the only women that could possibly not be jealous over their 14 year old husband having sex with them days apart.
All we have in this story are perfectly understanding teenagers that love unconditionally (unless of course, the women are promiscuous. That's all Midnight ever seems to care about as a condition), cry tears of joy during sex, and willingly leave their families, countries, culture, and understanding of life to be with someone they've barely known. Should I even mention that Midnight is now responsible for his mother, his sister, two 16 year old wives, and three children that are on the way and he doesn't even have a Drivers License? MTV would cash in on a reality show like this.
It's a shame though, because the book was not without some great premises and chapters. Reading about Akemi's mother was deeply satisfying and engaging. It made me like Akemi more. Reading about Midnights thoughts on women and his faults was also very satisfying. I loved when he had doubt in his thoughts. Since there was NO true conflict in the story (since he always easily defeated his enemies without threat or consequence) then the only real suspense came from his inner battles. Hearing him be afraid to love Bangs was interesting and honest and human. Seeing him struggle with his faith was interesting and honest and human. Seeing him become frustrated with circumstances out of his control was interesting and honest and human.
It's too bad Souljah never realized that the journey in Midnights mind (which already crossed multiple cultures and boundaries) was far more dynamic and interesting than the journey across the world for a love that never really made sense in the first place. Why didn't Souljah show more mind struggles? The battles of the mind that was a theme in the early part of the book? Does 14 year old Midnight not masturbate while struggling to stay away from lust? Does he not question how he will provide for so many people? Does he not ever question if his "protection" of women is sexism and self satisfying instead of pure? Does he not struggle some days more than others with fasting? Or is each and every day really just a walk in the park? Where are these thoughts? Even Jesus struggled with himself.
It's also too bad that Souljah never gave a real purpose for Bangs, who was the only character in the story that could make me (and Midnight) smile. When she told Midnight that she loved him, it seemed real. Not real in a sense that it was true, but because it seemed in place with what teenagers feel. I hate that I never felt a realness about the love triangle between Midnight and his two wives. But I did FEEL the intention, honesty, and humanity in Bangs words to him. She was a great character, if only because anytime she came around, we finally got to see some dissonance in Midnight, where he doubted himself and his thoughts. She did more as an antagonist than anyone else, including Akemi's father.
For all of the criticisms I had about this book it could have been a great read. Had she shaved about 100 pages of detail and instead used that page space to finish the story of what happened when Midnight got back to Brooklyn, how he got involved with Santiago, and what happened to his wives and children, and gave more purpose for Bangs then I could have at least justified my purchase of this book. Instead, she left story intentionally unanswered (or for another 20 dollars later down the line).
It's not as if she addressed the unanswered questions and just gave us an ambigious ending where it could be interpreted multiple ways (that would have been fine). She simply didn't even acknowledge the unanswered questions. Maybe she didn't try to connect the dots because there were too many plot holes and inconsistencies to try and explain away. Still, I would have appreciated her trying. Knowing who was the wife Midnight had with him at the end of the Coldest Winter would have gone a long way to saving the last half of this book.
Bottom Line: "Midnight And The Meaning of Love" is an honest attempt at telling a Romeo and Juliet Hood Odyssey that spans multiple continents but it fails to capture the heart of the readers while trying to reveal the heart of Midnight. It's easy to see that Sister Souljah cares about her story and her characters, but her idea of a 14 year old Muslim man in love fails to translate into a believable human being; especially one that was as vivid and engaging as the Midnight was in Coldest Winter Ever. Midnight didn't say much in Coldest Winter which had us very intrigued to see his thoughts in the prequels, but his thoughts about fashion and chivalry and love and life don't ever seem to match the man that was presented in Coldest Winter Ever. True, he went through a dramatic perspective shift after becoming incarcerated, losing his mother, and his "manhood", but Souljah never touches on that in this book. Instead, all we see is a Superman version of Midnight. Souljah teases the reader by making the main character Midnight and even throwing in a chapter with Santiago in this book, but the characters never even seem like the same characters from CWE. They seem like gimmicks to get the reader, reading a completely separate story with nothing to do with the former. That's cool, if that's the story she wants to tell. But why then say it is a prequel? Prequels are suppose to help support the sequel and show why a person was the way they were. This book doesn't do that. It actually disconnects the two stories.
For all it's build up and page length, you can't help but feel like this book is incomplete.