Nicole Dennis-Benn, as a book club pick.
The colorful, eye-catching cover got my attention first. Then the content, its the story of Patsy, a Jamaican woman who finally gets a coveted visa to the United States. That visa is a chance to leave a life of poverty and strife. It's a chance to go to the land of opportunity. Patsy can get a good job in New York and send money back to her daughter, Tru. Most important of all, she can be with the woman she loves instead of suppressing her true self in Jamaica. But what if the grass isn't truly greener on the other side? What do you do when everything you've ever dreamed of turns into a nightmare?
It was hard to read this book without being judgmental. Initially, I saw Patsy's decision to leave her life and daughter as a noble one. She had good intentions. While she has a job in Jamaica, the money she makes isn't enough to provide a more stable environment for Tru. Patsy has to live with her overly religious mother, who questions every decision Patsy makes. For years Patsy has had to suppress her feelings for her best friend, Cecily. Although Cecily now lives in Brooklyn, NY, the two women have maintained their friendship through letters. Those letters not only fill Patsy's head of the joys and riches of America, but of the promise that they can be free together. But when Patsy is finally reunited with Cecily, she realizes that those letters were nothing more than an illusion.
To the outside world, Cecily is living the American dream. She lives in a nice home, is married to a wealthy man, and has a son. But is she truly happy? Would she give all that up for Patsy? Of course not, because Cecily knows of the struggles ahead. Cecily loves Patsy but not enough to go back to struggling to make ends meet. So has Patsy made a mistake? Was it worth it to Patsy to give up her life in Jamaica? What about Tru? Did Patsy really think about the impact her decision would have on Tru? That's where I have a problem with Patsy. She left Tru with her biological father, who was actually a married man with children. Tru is left in a household where she is the outsider. At first she thinks her mother is coming back, but when Tru realizes that's not the case she believes she's been rejected by her mother. That's when I began to see Patsy as a truly selfish character. But maybe I'm wrong!
After a relationship with Cecily is off the table, Patsy has to figure out how to support herself without help. How to rent a room without papers or proper I.D. How to get a job without papers. How to navigate the subway system. What food to buy? The options for Patsy are very small. She wants to go to school to learn about computers, but how is that possible without papers. The only job prospects are in low-paying service jobs. The types of jobs that are filled by people who are often ignored. Like working as a bathroom attendant or a nanny to wealthy people. With options like those, Patsy is left feeling embarrassed and ashamed, so much she goes years without speaking to Tru. I didn't like Patsy cutting off contact with her daughter, but I understand it after looking at the book as a whole. I read this with my American lens. I was born and raised in New York.
I'm not rich and but I can understand worrying about money. However, I don't
understand financial struggles from an immigrant perspective, and I
think that's the goal of this book. If we could all take a moment to look at life from another perspective, we would all be much better people.