Wells That Draw Water: A Review of Transcendent Kingdom

Hello there, traveler! Happy Belated Mother’s Day! 💜

To all the moms and parents out there, thank you for your loveliness. Shout out to eldest siblings, aunts, grandparents, and guardians. And to everyone who isn’t with a loved one today, or haven’t had much to celebrate lately, here’s a colossal hug. 🤗 You deserve the world.

Let’s talk about one of my recent reads, Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi, a short, surprising read about family life, immigrant experiences, religion alignments, and mental health that I absolutely adored.

The cover for Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi.

SYNOPSIS:

Gifty is a fifth-year candidate in neuroscience at Stanford School of Medicine studying reward-seeking behavior in mice and the neural circuits of depression and addiction. Her brother, Nana, was a gifted high school athlete who died of a heroin overdose after a knee injury left him hooked on OxyContin. Her suicidal mother is living in her bed. Gifty is determined to discover the scientific basis for the suffering she sees all around her.

But even as she turns to the hard sciences to unlock the mystery of her family’s loss, she finds herself hungering for her childhood faith and grappling with the evangelical church in which she was raised, whose promise of salvation remains as tantalizing as it is elusive. Transcendent Kingdom is a deeply moving portrait of a family of Ghanaian immigrants ravaged by depression and addiction and grief — a novel about faith, science, religion, love. 


Goodreads | Book Depository | IndieBound


Rep:

  • Ghananaian cast, protagonist, and author
  • Bisexual main character
  • Depression
  • Mental health representation
  • Religious representation (Christianity)
  • BIPOC characters

Content Warnings:

  • Death
  • Depression
  • Drug abuse
  • Overdose
  • Parental neglect
  • Racial slurs
  • Racism
  • Suicidal ideation

tl;dr: Do I recommend this book?

"Yes," written in bold, black text.

MY RATING: ★★★★★


“We read the Bible how we want to read it. It doesn’t change, but we do.”

I read this book for a school assignment — to analyze, dissect, and interpret as required by my English teacher (who is amazing, by the way) and her Google-Doc dissertation prompt. I had no idea how profoundly Transcendent Kingdom would affect me.

This isn’t the type of book that makes you cry — though certainly, throughout its course, the book caused tears to brim in my eyes. It’s the type of book that you read when a storm rages outside, and you’re staring at the wall (with no thoughts, like a blood-sniffing shark). It’s the type of book that makes my hands tremble with quiet realization.

This book is a blessing and a prayer.

My fondness and closeness for this book probably comes from my own deeply Christian background, which is a big part of who I am. To this day, I attend Church through online streams on Sunday, and I keep my supplication close to my heart.

Never before have I read a novel that explores faith as deeply and compassionately as this one did.

Gifty, the brilliant protagonist of this story, grapples with the same religious tumult that people in my community grapple with — but she does not condemn her experiences.

Not even once; in fact, she celebrates her faith and identities in her own conflicted, contemplative way. I never see this sort of religious complexity in fiction.

Especially as a queer person of color with a close relationship with their faith, this novel’s messages oscillated into my marrow. Gifty is a queer, religious person of color like I am, grappling with the same contemplations that I do.

The novel’s particular focus on depression and family dynamics hit different with me, too. Its discussions on these topics, especially their intersections, were treated with the utmost dexterity and care.

Two More Lines That Also Hit Different

Maybe religion was the only well that would draw water.

  • This is the title of my review, hehe!
  • It rather reflects how I view religion. Faith is a vessel that we gather from.

But the instruction is not simply to love your neighbor. It is to love yourself, and herein lies the challenge.

  • I gasped when Gifty said this in her monologues.
  • Reading her thoughts was like looking into a mirror; into the distorted image of yourself within the basins of holy water before you enter the sanctuary.

This is one of the rare books that I can truly call realistic: a person’s time on earth does not consist only of pain, and it does not consist only of joy. Life is a smoothie, you know? (Hear me out.) It is full of contradictions (just as religion is). Transcendent Kingdom mastered the perfect blend.

“Yes,” I said to myself as I read each page. “This is life. This is actually, truly life.”

So many human truths were packed into this relatively short novel: queerness, culture, belonging, racial identity, love, addiction, bonds, growth — and plenty of references to STEM and neuroscience developments, which was a big bonus for me.

I rarely give books my complete recommendation; my praises usually come with caveats.

“Read this, but only if you’re a YA fan!” I’d mention upon completing certain books. “Read this, but be aware of the rather confusing prose!”

Transcendent Kingdom, however? No matter who you are, or what you normally read, Transcendent Kingdom deserves your full attention. It’s concise — you can get through it in an afternoon, if you have the time. You may see or find yourself in these pages.

Read this at once, and grant yourself everlasting life!


Thank you so much for reading my review! It’s so wonderful to read an adult contemporary with so much resonance.

Wish me luck on my English essay, dear traveler! 😋


Don’t miss a post! Coming up next on Sophie and Their Stories: a book tour post for an incredible epic fantasy read!

Let’s connect across the Net! 💖

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