Leila Mottley

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Leila Mottley

When there is no choice, all you have left to do is walk.

Kiara Johnson does not know what it is to live as a normal seventeen-year-old. With her mother in a rehab facility and an older brother who devotes his time and money to a recording studio, she fends for herself - and for nine-year-old Trevor, whose own mother is prone to disappearing for days at a time. As the landlord of their apartment block threatens to raise their rent, Kiara finds herself walking the streets after dark, determined to survive in a world that refuses to protect her.

Then one night Kiara is picked up by Officers 601 and 190, and the gruesome deal she is offered in exchange for her freedom lands her at the centre of a media storm. If she agrees to testify in a grand jury trial, she could help expose the sickening corruption of a police department. But honesty comes at a price - one that could leave her family vulnerable to their retaliation, and endanger everyone she loves.

Nightcrawling is an unforgettable novel about young people navigating the darkest corners of an adult world, told with a humanity that is at once agonising and utterly mesmerising.


Nightcrawling is the highly anticipated and impressive debut novel by Leila Mottley, the 2018 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate. Deeply affected by true events in her hometown of Oakland, California, in 2015, Mottley felt a strong need to give a voice to the survivor of a police violence case. It was a case where the Oakland police department attempted to cover up the systemic sexual exploitation of a young woman by several of its officers. This fictional account is an extraordinary achievement considering Mottley was only 17 when she started writing it, the same age as the protagonist, Kiara.

At this young age, Kiara is having to support herself and her older brother who’s recording an album and convinced he is on the brink of fame and big money. He relies on his sister to pay the rent and bills after their mother is sent to jail. Kiara also begins to look after the little boy in the neighbouring apartment after his mother repeatedly fails to return home. As Kiara becomes more desperate for money, she is persuaded to turn to sex work – nightcrawling. She gets picked up by a police officer and from there, her whole world begins to spiral out of her control. She finds herself at the centre of a high-profile case of sexual exploitation and becomes ‘… another casualty of a choice I didn’t know I was making'.

Kiara is in survival mode at the same time as trying to do her best for those she loves. This powerful insight into her life deserves a wide readership – it is one narrative that also tells of the many more unspoken and unheard narratives from women of colour in present-day America. Nightcrawling is an essential and convincing read for those wanting to gain more of an understanding of the universal stories of deep and institutional racism. Everything about the voice in this novel rings true.

Nicki Levy is from Readings Carlton

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