Environmental racism, police and FBI malfeasance, gentrification and other social injustices are front and center in Aya de León’s novel A Spy in the Struggle. Even COVID-19 makes a brief appearance. All of these of-the-moment elements come together to make up a compulsive tale set in Holloway, a poor but proud neighborhood near San Francisco.
The book’s opening tells you almost everything you need to know about its protagonist, Yolanda Vance. An associate in what turns out to be a corrupt law firm, she rats the otherwise prestigious company out because it’s just the right thing to do. For Yolanda, doing the right thing is paramount. It’s almost as important as being the right thing. The daughter of a charismatic but adulterous Southern preacher and a woman who too often let lowdown men lead her astray, Yolanda decides early in her life to let nothing get in the way of her success. That includes men, racism, sexism and any other “ism” out there lying in wait to trip her up. Her focus and determination pay off when the FBI, in what seems like an act of gratitude, hires her and gives her a very special assignment.
Yolanda learns that an eco-activist group called Black, Red and GREEN! is making things difficult for a Microsoft-size government contractor called RandellCorp, which has invaded Holloway without offering residents any but the most low-level jobs. Moreover, the behemoth company is dumping carcinogens in an old railway yard even as they pretend to be greener than Kermit the Frog. Yolanda’s job is to infiltrate Black, Red and GREEN! and report on the comings and goings of its members. But this story isn’t just about a rock-ribbed conservative whose eyes are opened; it soon morphs into something darker and more kinetic.
A Spy in the Struggle is as gripping as it is surprising, dropping readers into the thick of things before they even know it.