Riot Act | Sarah Lariviere


Coming July 16th, 2024 from Knopf; 304 pages

Content Warning: Language, violence, death

About the Author: “Sarah studied theater at Oberlin College and earned a master’s degree in social work from Hunter College in New York City, where she specialized in casework with children and families. She used to be the Program Director for artist book publisher the Arion Press. She’s inspired by experimenting in her wild gardens, painting, and listening to her son play guitar.

“The first book in Sarah’s new duology, Riot Act, will be published by Knopf on July 16, 2024. Her debut novel, The Bad Kid (Simon & Schuster), was an Edgar Award finalist. Her second novel, Time Travel for Love and Profit (Knopf), was designated an Amazing Audiobook by the American Library Association” (Bio from author’s website).

Find Sarah Lariviere on the following platforms:

“But we’re not the same. Our differences matter. Learning about each other, listening to each other, instead of dehumanizing each other, that’s how we stand up to power.”

The year is 1991, and America is unrecognizable, overtaken by a charismatic dictator who suppresses free expression by any means necessary. In this alternate, authoritarian history, a group of high school students who call themselves “The Thespians” lead their own form of rebellion, putting on a restricted production of William Shakespeare’s Henry VI. Gigi, the leader of this mutiny, is still reeling from the death of her best friend (who also happens to be the novel’s narrator), the disappearance of her theater teacher, and normal teenage struggles (like romance, school, and family relationships). As The Thespians approach show day, Gigi’s world continues to fall apart around her and the stakes of resistance continue to rise.

The backdrop of extreme political and social oppression that sets this novel does not seem compatible with the portrayal of everyday teenage experiences and struggles, but Lariviere managed to weave these ideas together with a notable grace and cohesiveness. The story was delivered through the narration of Max, one of the Thespians who was killed by law enforcement, but Max’s narration mostly follows his friend Gigi as she navigates the tension-filled political landscape of 1990’s Illinois. Max, despite being slightly removed from the lives of Gigi and others, paints a compelling picture of the characters in this world, having known them intimately. Additionally, the sardonic tone of the narrator fuels the angst of the piece and the setting. The beautiful prose and elegant diction that Max sometimes expresses contrasts with his biting and cutting teenage remarks in a way that captures the seriousness of the situation while also emphasizing the youth of the protagonists. However, the pacing of the novel was frustrating at times. It felt as though everything rapidly escalated in the final few chapters, while some other segments of the story felt very slow. Overall, I appreciated the depth and nuance of the plot and the characters’ relationships. Despite the narrator being grating and sarcastic, Max has some surprisingly powerful moments as well; one instance emerges when Max tries to communicate with Gigi, thinking, “You’re alive, my love is what I’d tell her. There is nothing else to have. Additionally, the debates between characters about the merits of different acts of rebellion are reflective of debates we see in modern society, demonstrating Lariviere’s deft ability to apply relevant political commentary to a fictional narrative.   

Riot Act releases on July 16th, 2024.

Pine Reads Review would like to thank SparkPoint Studio, NetGalley, and Knopf for sending us an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Any quotes are taken from an advanced copy and may be subject to change before final publication.

Sam Parker, Pine Reads Review Writer