By Any Means Necessary Review: Have Your CAKE and Eat It Too

By Silk Jazmyne on


It’s not easy handling multiple identities at once and it’s even less simple to put it on the page, but Candice Montgomery does it with style and grace in her sophomore novel, By Any Means Necessary. Torrey McKenzie is a first generation college freshman at San Francisco State University. After learning the apiary (bee farm) his Uncle Miles left him is being foreclosed on, he tries to navigate his new life while attempting to fix his old one. He meets friends (roommate Desh and STEM girls CAKE Clarke/Auburn/Kennedy/Emery), reconnects with a middle school flame Gabe, and is taken under the wing of a vivacious Dr. Lily Anderson. Torrey must balance who he’s becoming with who he was dealing with slimy businessman, hungry gentrifiers and exhausted neighbors. It’s a story about the gray areas in life, in loving where you come from yet wanting to grow into something more.

First generation college students and graduates will find much that’s familiar and the addition of the apiary allows for an entirely new exploration. This backdrop of gentrification allows for a deeper discussion of the effects and value of certain changes over others. This novel pushes back on urban colonization and discusses better ways to improve neighborhoods for the people who live in them instead of pushing them out to make room for other socio economic groups. Torrey is well versed in picking and choosing his battles. Growing up as a gay black man, he has to handle homophobia in a community where he also seeks refuge.

This author is incredibly intelligent and very witty. There were moments I found myself chuckling at the jokes the friends were lovingly having at each other’s expense. Her writing is heartfelt, with so many moments of beautiful prose that read like spoken word poetry recited over a warm instrumental. 

When Torrey seems Emery engaging in her favorite activity, boxing, he says, “Girl’s a poem in the boxing ring. She’s breathless. She’s gorgeous. She’s moving-dancing. She’s a fire blazing in a rainstorm, a strike of lightning across a corn field. She’s everything.” After Gabe tells Emery that he’s newly single, “He presses into me and his lips meet mine, and I become a whisper of a boy. Gabriel kisses me like I am his anchor to this reality, like he’s looking for answers under my tongue, like I am the last taste of anything he’ll ever have.” These two examples also give the reader even more context of who Torrey is. There are many other jokes between him and CAKE and some could even say flirting. This character is masculine and gay but does not advance any toxic masculinity 

Candice Montgomery

The plot took a long time to progress in the beginning. I felt like the apiary was going up for sale for a long time. Now, this could be because any legal process is daunting but there were moments I found myself thinking, that apiary still hasn’t been foreclosed on? But once the actual auction came around, things picked up immensely . In the beginning, the story felt like it was moving quickly though the plot was moving slowly. There were a like of exposition to ground the reader in Torrey’s world but I felt like a lot of information was being tossed at me very quickly so I found myself having to pause to adjust; however, I won’t complain about this as the beginning of college truly does feel like this. The author captured the truth of the whirlwind of the university experience, especially for a first generation who wouldn’t have had the same preparation as other classmates. I enjoyed how the author spent time, flourishing the relationship with Gabe. My heart swelled watching these two fall in love. I couldn’t put the book down as the climax approached, the pacing and plot progression in perfect harmony.

Torrey McKenzie is so well written it’s almost ridiculous. The author made him so self aware without being a brat and still having room to grow. It’s beautiful to see this balance as there’s nothing for frustrating to me a reader when a character not only has no sense of self but never seems to gain it. Torrey is incredibly fun on the page with his quips and explanations of black culture. I felt as though I was listening to a friend tell his story. I wasn’t as enamored with the supporting characters. I feel like the author knew them well but I felt as though a friend was telling me about someone instead of just introducing them myself. CAKE – I loved this play on these four girls names and how they made up this black girl magic STEM crew, but there were moments I felt they existed as a conglomerate instead of four individuals. Now, I must admit that Kennedy and Auburn felt most fleshed out with their individual likes and singular moments with Torrey. I would have enjoyed seeing a bit more of that on the page. I enjoyed this old flame reignited. And I loved how the author touched base on Gabe’s intertwined racial/ethic identity and how he navigates it. I felt like I really understood him on the page and what motivated him.

Torrey McKenzie resonates during and long after the book is finished. I enjoyed going on a journey with him that we had no idea where it would conclude. This is a book for anyone who understands the obligations we have to other and ourselves. Sometimes selfishness is the best thing we can do for others because no one can pour from an empty cup. It’s an encouragement that found family genuinely is as satisfying as blood relatives. Where we come from isn’t just the genetics we receive but how those around us have shaped us. By Any Means Necessary is a reminder to be proud of where you come from no matter what, because  the foundation of who we are builds us up and up, and the sky’s the limit.

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