November 29, 2021 8:15 AM EST

The plot of Jason Mott’s Hell of a Book, the 2021 National Book Award winner for fiction, at first sounds simple: A Black author is traveling all over the country on a promotional tour for his best-selling novel. Then, along the way, he meets “The Kid,” a 10-year-old boy who might be a figment of the author’s imagination. The Kid looks stunningly familiar and reminds the author of his own troubled youth. There’s also Soot, a young Black child who appears in what seems like an altogether separate story, in which he deals with racist classmates and a violent incident that shatters his world. In revealing how these characters’ lives intersect, Mott unveils a twisty and startling narrative about the blurry lines between reality and fiction.

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