Kiss the Sky
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Kiss the Sky

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by Farai Chideya

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From nationally acclaimed political commentator and multimedia personality Farai Chideya comes an intense and darkly funny debut novel about a woman who learns what you stand to gain—and lose—if you follow your dreams.

Sophie Maria Clare Lee is no stranger to reinvention. A book-smart black girl from blue-collar Baltimore, she remade herself


From nationally acclaimed political commentator and multimedia personality Farai Chideya comes an intense and darkly funny debut novel about a woman who learns what you stand to gain—and lose—if you follow your dreams.

Sophie Maria Clare Lee is no stranger to reinvention. A book-smart black girl from blue-collar Baltimore, she remade herself into a Harvard hipster, and finally into an indie rock musician touring America with her mesmerizing classmate (and now ex-husband) Ari Klein.

Now, ten years after graduation, a one-night musical reunion with Ari spurs Sophie to snatch back the mic. She lands a record deal—with the help of new manager and paramour Leo Masters—but quickly discovers that her celebrity status brings new risks for her sense of self and even her safety. As she and Ari play music together again, a complicated love triangle begins. With a Greek chorus of advice from her two best girlfriends, Sophie tries to figure out how she relates to these two men, the music business, her loving but demanding extended family, and her penchant for alcohol and melancholy. As the band tours the world, will Sophie’s faith, family, and friendships crumble under the weight of her dogged fight for fame?

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“[An] engaging shout-out to the rock-and-roll life.”

“Mesmerizing and charismatic. . . .
This imaginatively rich novel is a must-read.”
—Feminist Review

“This effervescent novel hits the right note every time. It may end up being a defining novel of the Obama generation.”
—Colin Channer, author of The Girl with the Golden Shoes

Publishers Weekly

Washed-up rock star Sophie Lee has coasted along as a B-level TV celebrity since the breakup of her indie rock band, Sky, and her divorce from Ari Klein, the alluring but drug-abusing lead guitarist and fellow Harvard classmate. But when the band reunites for a one-night charity event, she realizes her dreams of stardom might not be over. Her new producer and lover, Leo Masters, pushes her into recording and touring again, throwing Sophie in over her head, as she is torn between her old love and her new one in the pressure cooker of fame. NPR radio host Chideya captures the New York music scene at the turn of the millennium in her debut novel, but fails to generate much sympathy for Sophie as she struggles through a quagmire of problems, mostly resulting from her own inability to take control of her life. Sophie's many neuroses aren't organic, a new one seeming to appear any time the reader's interest may be waning. Despite a memorable cast of side characters, the plot flounders along as ineffectually as the heroine. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

Washington Square Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)

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Read an Excerpt


1 The Smiths, "Unlovable"

I don't believe in the devil anymore. But if I did, he would look a lot like Ari Malcolm Klein. My ex has eyes the same amber color as his skin, with flecks of red-gold in the iris, as if you could see the flames licking behind them.

Ari walked into our dressing room with just minutes to spare. This was our first gig in three years, for God's sake. Seventies punk rock, CBGB style, flowed into the dressing room from the club outside. He flicked on a red-fringed lamp and leaned against a battered gunmetal school desk serving as the makeup table. I'd been worried about him, but he looked fine...not just as in "Everything's fine," but "Damn, ain't he fine." Still had his near-feminine leonine grace, an economy of movement, and a way of looking you in the eyes until you dropped your gaze.

He did that to me right now, and when I lowered my eyes, I saw he was holding a small glassine Baggie casually between his index and middle fingers. He lifted it a bit, winked at me. "You want some?" he said. He was naked to the waist, a slight discoloration on his arm where a tattoo of my name had once been, with the suspenders of his pants hanging down his legs.

I felt like cussing him out. He couldn't be bothered to say hi or hello or we're gonna tear this muthafucka up. Just, You want some? I took a deep breath and played it icy. "No," I said, perching on the edge of a couch that looked like it had been slept on. "The only thing I'm on is Effexor." A little depressive's humor. "I don't get high anymore."

"Oh, you don't," he said, tapping a neat free-form line on the back of his hand. Then he heldone nostril and — quickquick — it was gone. "Well, it's here," he said, rubbing his sinuses. "If you want it."

"I don't," I said. For one, I didn't even know what it was, not that that used to stop me. But whatever Ari was taking was always trouble, for him and for me. And I didn't need trouble right now. All I needed was to get this shit right. Just have one killer show, help our friend out, and see what manifested from there.

The last time I was onstage was more than a year ago, just a threesong-solo set at a showcase in Crown Heights. Red, my best girl from college, had put me up to it. Tonight was different, though. Davide, who'd become our drummer after Red left the band, was riddled with cancer. And had no health insurance. And had a girlfriend and two kids. So a bunch of us banded together to get him a little money to pay his bills, and maybe even save a bit for his little girls, if we raised enough.

A month ago, I would have said that the chance of me and Ari playing together was about as remote as the pope announcing he'd gotten married. But Red, who was here now fussing with my wardrobe, guilted us until we agreed to join the three-band bill. Red and the other organizers had wangled a deal where they took both the door and the drink profits from the Orchid — a very good deal.

The Orchid was where the music critics went when they wanted to see what was next. And after college, when I was doing real music criticism, not just being the face for some two-bit video show, this used to be my spot. I was one of the loud ones, you know, who would start talking shit about a weak band while they were still onstage, just to see if they could take the heat. Sometimes they crumbled, and sometimes it made them stronger. I felt like I had earned that power, the right to make or break a band before their album had even hit the streets.

Now, it was my turn to take the heat. And the decision to cross those few feet from the rows of couches and tables, from the safety of the darkness to the glare of the spotlight, seemed more foolish by the second.

We got the five-minute shout from the sound guy, a man with a long white ZZ Top beard. Ari bit his hangnails and I wanted to take his calloused fingertips into my mouth and smooth his eyebrows, just the way I used to.

Red had always been as petite as a pixie, with nappy apricot-colored hair and a delicate face. She tucked my hair into a chignon and asked me if my shirt was too tight. She'd made the shirt herself, in the back of the little boutique she owned on Nostrand Avenue. And somehow in the week between the fitting and the show I'd gained just enough weight to make it seem more like a corset than a blouse.

"Baby, I asked if the shirt was too tight."

"No, Red. It's great." I had to breathe shallowly to keep the seams from ripping, but man, did it look good on me, bloodred raw silk that hugged my rib cage and blossomed like an overripe rose around the cleavage.

Someone came behind me and kissed me on the cheek, his chest brushing my back. I turned around and tilted my head up so I could properly see his face. He had flawless rich brown skin and his eyes were tight, almond-shaped, like a Benin mask. He tipped his head to me and then bent to give Red a hug. "You remember Leo," she said.

Did I ever. After Red had introduced us at a record release party I had spent two days wrapped in schoolgirl fantasies: me in his arms, his arms around me, some heavy imaginary petting. No dream sex...yet.

We'd met for dinner once since then. Leo told me all about his management company, his hip-hop clients, how he was trying to bring some integrity back to the rap game. And he'd told me I should jump back in the flow, albeit as a solo act.

"You look good, baby," Leo said. He kissed me on both cheeks and turned toward Ari. I suspected the two of them were too similar under the skin to like each other. Leo was dark; Ari light. Leo had his hair in minitwists; Ari's was cropped. Leo was dressed in a crisp black suit. Ari, as usual, was punk-rocking it out. But underneath the skin, both Leo and Ari believed they were crusaders in a world of hypocrisy, and that no one could tell them how to live. That was what attracted me to each of them, and what made them insufferable solo and just plain dangerous together.

I tried some fast talking about the wardrobe to distract Leo, but he put his arm around me and turned his body and mine so we faced Ari as a unit.

"You might want to get dressed," Leo said softly.

"I'm dressed," Ari said.

"Like that?" Leo said.

"Like this." Ari sported shiny black shoes, tuxedo pants, suspenders, and, of course, the bare chest.

"This isn't some high school talent show." Then Leo focused his eyes on the Baggie, lying on the old desk. He picked it up, drew it close. I'd always had eagle eyes. Even from a couple feet away, I could see the powder's yellowish tinge and the fine grain.

"Do the world a favor," Leo said, tossing the bag back on a table. "Keep this shit out of my girl's life."

I'd been focused on avoiding a fight, but I got distracted by the girl. I liked his possessiveness, presumptuous though it was. I liked the fact that we hadn't even gone on a date and he was claiming me. No one had in a very long time.

"It's okay," I said to Leo. "Ari's just...Ari."

"And you are a queen," he said.

The sound guy shouted, "Get the fuck onstage." He was never one for niceties.

Ari picked up his guitar. Slowly.

I turned to Leo. "It really means a lot to me that you came out. And, as far as Ari' concerned, I'm not tempted."

"You shouldn't be worried about being tempted," Leo said. "You should get serious about making music your career again. That's the reason I'm here, baby, to see what you got. And you," Leo said, turning to Ari, "should really get the fuck dressed."

"Last time I checked, I wasn't your punk-ass bitch," Ari said. His words slurred slightly, so slightly that no one besides me would probably notice. Ari was looking me in the eyes as he said it. And then he turned, parted the velvet curtains, and walked out on the stage.

"Thank fucking God," the sound guy said. "About...fucking...time."

Red fiddled with my shirt again. "Honey, if it's too tight, you can't breathe. You can't breathe, you can't sing. Quick, let's get you out of this."

"Just let it go. I've gotta go," I said, pushing her hands away.

"That's right," Leo said. "She better get onstage."

"Leo, I know you mean well, but you better get out of my kitchen,"

Red said. And he did, if reluctantly. That was Red, a no-shit-taking Creole girl who could make men twice her size hop to.

"I'm not trying to stress you out, baby girl," Red said. "But we should probably get you out of this. I've got a couple more things in my bag that will make you look out of sight."

"It's all good," I told Red. It wasn't, actually. I was short of breath, and my palms were sweating. Part wardrobe malfunction, part panic attack. Damn. If I could have given this all up, I would have, a long time ago. But music was my heartbeat, my oxygen, my bridge to the world. My demon, too. Oh, Jesus. Showtime.

Copyright © 2009 Farai Chideya


What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"This effervescent novel hits the right note every time. It may end up being a defining novel of the Obama generation." — Colin Channer, author of The Girl with the Golden Shoes

"Kiss the Sky crackles with raw energy...Farai Chideya's prose is smart, fast, clever, and addictive, with not only a breathless tension in the literary flow, but infused with musicality. You'll be rooting for Sophie to navigate her way through her relationships, her corporate television job, divey clubs, family dynamics, European music tours, industry sabotage, and self sabotage. Once you start reading, you won't be able to put this book down." — Lalita Tademy, author of Cane River and Red River

"Farai Chideya brings her unique brand of freshness, humor, and heartbreak to Kiss the Sky. You'll feel the heat of the lights and hear music on every page of this pop culture insider's peek behind the curtain at the elusive quest for love and fame. This novel was a rare treat!" — Tananarive Due, American Book Award winner, author of Joplin's Ghost and Blood Colony

"There are few that can sum up the social political, yet cultural divides and collides like Farai Chideya." — Chuck D, Public Enemy

"Captures the New York music scene at the turn of the millennium...memorable cast of side characters." — Publishers Weekly

"Engaging shout-out to the rock-and-roll life." — Booklist

Meet the Author

Farai Chideya has combined media, technology, and socio-political analysis during her twenty-year career as an award-winning author, journalist, professor, and lecturer. She is a senior writer at the data journalism organization FiveThirtyEight, and has taught at New York University and Harvard. She frequently appears on public radio and cable television, speaking about race, politics, and culture. She was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, and graduated magna cum laude with a BA from Harvard University in 1990. Find out more at

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Kiss the Sky 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Susan_Helene_Gottfried More than 1 year ago
I don¿t remember where I first heard of Farai Chideya¿s Kiss the Sky. I do know I had really high hopes for this story, of a woman struggling with herself and her music career. Sophie is the sort of character you initially want to root for: she¿s divorced from her music partner, but they¿ve found a way to co-exist ¿ maybe they are even comfortable with their status. She¿s got a cool job, at least when the book opens, and she¿s willing to work to regain what she had, musically. It should have worked. Even the fact that Ms. Chideya is a Harvard grad who has a published a number of non-fiction books should have been enough to save this one. I was shocked to see how many sentences started with a verb. Went to the club. Stepped outside for a smoke. (Now, I¿m making these sentences up, so don¿t go looking through the book for them) Yes, okay, maybe some of this is establishing Sophie¿s voice, but frankly, it was too much. It became annoyingly repetitive, and it got in the way of the story. This wasn¿t as horrible a thing as I had first feared. Sophie is a mess: she¿s bulimic, broke, and bull-headed. She¿s so far in denial about her life that I couldn¿t spend time with her. I had to put the book down. It¿s one thing to want to read an autobiography about someone who¿s a bigger train wreck. We have a reason to want to like them ¿ we have heard the music they make. There¿s a connection there. Thus, in fiction, it¿s imperative for the reader to be able to relate to a character who has large amounts of baggage. We need to like them, care about them, root for them. They need to have some sort of drive, some sort of forward motion ¿ either about them or their plot. If it¿s going to be a plot-driven book, the character shouldn¿t get in the way of that. Sadly, Sophie does. I needed a reason to like Sophie. But I find myself intolerant of women characters, especially, who are broke but continue to spend money as if it¿s no big deal. And then the sex scene with Leon¿ really, I had to ask if Sophie had any self-respect whatsoever. If she doesn¿t respect herself, why should I? Kiss the Sky became a Did Not Finish.
Brett Calhoun More than 1 year ago
Interesting and dynamic storyline. Realistic, fleshed out characters whom you can truly watch grow.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Upon reading at first, I thought it was going to 'pick up' and that it was simply slow to get started. However, I found that I had to force myself to continue reading as it went downhill from there. There were so many characters doing so many things, it became difficult to keep up with who had done what. Then I felt as if I were thrown back into a decade, perhaps the 70's, that I couldn't appreciate nor could I relate to the characters, their behaviors or their choices. It was almost like trying to read through a fog . . . unclear and hard to find your way through. I must say it was the worst book that I'd read in a very long time because if I'd checked it out from the library, I would have returned it after having forced myself time and time again to get through it. Headed for vacation, I thought I would bring it along to relax, however, I needed to get it finished because I didn't want it to go on vacation with me. When our bookclub met, I couldn't wait to inform them that I'd actually found a book that I despise. However, to my surprise each one of them shared my opinion. I would NOT recommend this book.
Kathleen-the-Reader More than 1 year ago
What a wonderful discovery! A novel that is truly out of the ordinary. Vivid characters and a real sense of time and place makes the story come alive. Once I picked this up I couldn't put it down. Sophie has real heart and soul and I was rooting for her all the way. If you know the music business (as I do), Kiss the Sky will ring true.