REVIEW: “Talking to Cancer” by Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali

Review of Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali, “Talking to Cancer”, Apex Magazine 112 (2018): Read Online. Originally published in Fiyah Magazine 2 (2017). Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

A woman who can cure cancer by talking to it comes to terms with the fact that she can also cause it. This is a rich story about responsibility and gifts, but also forgiveness and acceptance.

Whens she was a girl, Layla learned that she could talk to cancer when she asked it not to kill her mother, and it listened. But it turns out that this gift is double-edged, and in moments of anger, she can also cause cancer to begin growing in a person. As far as premises go, this is a great one. It’s simple, but powerful. Cancer inspires so much fear and so much pain, that the stakes are automatically high.

Layla is a gloriously rich character, someone who has dedicated her life to healing, but also has darkness within her. She’s not an angel, but is instead a real woman with real struggles and real emotions, who is not always her best self. The twists of the story challenge her, forcing her to decide who she wants to be. That kind of internal experience is exactly what I love to see in a short story, so I was not disappointed here.

This is a masterful, engaging story, and I highly recommend heading over to Apex to check it out!

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