BUTTERFLIES IN THE TRENCHES

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In this debut, educator Carmichael tells the story of his early years in an underserved community in Scarborough, Ontario, and of a trans-Canada bike ride he undertook in 2017 to raise money for youth programs. The book moves back and forth between two timelines, one beginning during Carmichael’s childhood in 2003 and the other during his bicycle trek, accompanied by a small group of supporters. The author describes growing up as the child of Guyanese immigrants in a community with a heavy police presence, and as he moves into adolescence, he recounts his growing awareness of how systemic racism affected every aspect of his life. Carmichael went away to college, where he earned a teaching degree, but he was an autodidact at heart, and it’s as a self-taught computer programmer that he discovered his passion; he’s the creator of an augmented-reality app that serves as a companion to the book (not reviewed). The author also found inspiration in Black Canadian and American writers and thinkers, particularly the late musician Nipsey Hussle, whose life he writes about in detail. Carmichael’s return to his hometown as an adult led to new insights about the nature of community and spurred him to plan his fundraising ride, which offers further learning opportunities as he visits regions that are totally different from urban Ontario. Carmichael has an offbeat and authentic voice that delivers emotion without a sense of melodrama and provides an intimate look into a tough childhood (“In human years I was seven; in block years I was 21”). He’s a thoughtful writer who does a fine job detailing his personal growth and his connections to North American Black communities. His stories are funny at times, as when he compares his adolescent bike-rental business to the mainstream, corporate bike-sharing programs of today, and poignant at others, as when he explains how crucial the rental income was to him. Overall, this is an intellectually and emotionally satisfying work and a meaningful and entertaining remembrance.

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