When Patsy gets her long-coveted visa to America, it comes after years of yearning to leave Pennyfield, the beautiful but impoverished Jamaican town where she was raised. More than anything, Patsy wishes to be reunited with her oldest friend, Cicely, whose letters arrive from New York steeped in the promise of a happier life and the possible rekindling of their young love. But Patsy’s plans don’t include her overzealous, evangelical mother―or even her five-year-old daughter, Tru.
Beating with the pulse of a long-witheld confession, Patsy gives voice to a woman who looks to America for the opportunity to choose herself first―not to give a better life to her family back home. Patsy leaves Tru behind in a defiant act of self-preservation, hoping for a new start where she can be, and love, whomever she wants. But when Patsy arrives in Brooklyn, America is not as Cicely’s treasured letters described; to survive as an undocumented immigrant, she is forced to work as a bathroom attendant and nanny. Meanwhile, Tru builds a faltering relationship with her father back in Jamaica, grappling with her own questions of identity and sexuality, and trying desperately to empathize with her mother’s decision.
Expertly evoking the jittery streets of New York and the languid rhythms of Jamaica, Patsy weaves between the lives of Patsy and Tru in vignettes spanning more than a decade as mother and daughter ultimately find a way back to one another.
Nicole Dennis-Benn is the author of the novels PATSY (June 4, 2019) and HERE COMES THE SUN (Liveright, 2016), which won the Lambda Literary Award, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Award, the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Award, and the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize, and was longlisted for the Dublin Literary Award.
HERE COMES THE SUN was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and received “Best Book of the Year” nods from NPR, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Entertainment Weekly, the San Francisco Chronicle, Dallas Morning News, BuzzFeed, Vice, and Kirkus Reviews, among others. It was named one of the best books to read in summer 2016 by the New York Times, NPR, BBC, O, The Oprah Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Elle, Cosmo, Marie Claire, Miami Herald, BuzzFeed, Bookpage, Brooklyn Magazine, Flavorwire, Book Riot, and Bookish, among others.
Time Out New York described Dennis-Benn as one of the “few immigrants and first-generation Americans who are putting their stamps on NYC,” and Vice included her in a round-up of immigrant authors “who are making American Literature great again.” Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Elle, Ebony, Electric Literature, Mosaic, Lenny Letter, and Catapult, among others. Her writing has been awarded a Richard and Julie Logsdon Fiction Prize, and two of her stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize in Fiction.
Dennis-Benn is a Lecturer in the Creative Writing Program at Princeton University. She has previously taught in the writing programs at the University of Pennsylvania and New York University, and has been awarded fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Hedgebrook, Lambda, Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, Hurston/Wright Foundation, and the Sewanee Writers' Conference. She is a recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts grant and a 2018 Caribbean Life Impact Award.
Born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, Dennis-Benn is a graduate of Cornell University and holds a Master of Public Health from the University of Michigan and an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. She lives with her wife in Brooklyn, New York.
Nicole Dennis-Benn has written an engrossing novel about a woman who chooses herself over her child in emigrating, alone, to the US and estranging herself from her young daughter. There is a really epic, sprawling quality to this novel, this sense of grandness in seeing Patsy make a life for herself in the States and, slowly, messily, grow into who she should be. There is a love story at the heart of this--a childhood love that could become something more if only it was easier for people to get out of their own way. And then there is another love story that rises out of people finding each other when they need them most. Intertwined with Patsy's story is that of her daughter, Tru, who grows into a formidable soccer player in Jamaica, but must try to find a place for herself in her community as she defies expectations of who she should be while nurturing the grief of an absent mother. It's a lot and I turned the pages mighty fast, just wanting more and more of this story. I did have a couple things I struggled with. Some of the description was too much. Like girl, I got it, let's move on. Just pages and pages to describe one thing! And then you're like oh shit it's only been five minutes in the story? WHAT? And the ending was a bit tidy. Now, I loved the ending but it felt rushed after the first few hundred pages feeling so dense. These are quibbles. The writing here is lush, passionate, honest. Definitely recommend.
Such a powerful, well-written novel about Patsy, a woman who leaves Jamaica and her daughter behind to pursue an independent life in America, only to encounter a fractured version of the American dream full of challenges. I loved this book because the characters feel so complex and human and Nicole Dennis-Benn writes their emotions with such rawness and vibrancy. For example, Patsy leaves her daughter behind in large part because she had her daughter before she felt ready for motherhood. Dennis-Benn describes the negative effects this abandonment has on Tru, holding Patsy accountable for her actions, while also displaying Patsy’s own suffering and desire for freedom in a way that humanizes her and made me root for her. This complexity of character extends to others in the novel as well, ranging from Roy, a problematic yet ultimately present father for Tru, to Tru herself, a young woman curious about her mother while also fighting to break free from the strict gender roles in her Jamaican town. Patsy’s fierce leaning toward independence, Tru’s angst and feelings of loneliness, Roy’s persistent love for Tru, all resonated with me and imbued Patsy with so much heart. I most appreciated Patsy and Tru’s resilience and growth over time in the face of so many life obstacles, though of course it should not be their responsibility to be resilient when the barriers the systemic forms of oppression they face – sexism, racism, etc. – are what need to be dismantled.
I also appreciated the diversity and political themes in Patsy. A book that so thoughtfully and honestly captures the immigrant experience, its trials and tribulations, is quite fitting in 2019. I wrote down so many little yet meaningful moments and themes to bring up in my feminist book club, including when Patsy has to work as a nanny for a white woman who is writing about Jamaica (i.e., cultural appropriation/exploitation), to the pressure for undocumented women to marry men so they could secure their status in America, to the stigma against mental health and capitalism’s complete disregard for mental wellbeing. While the novel is a little long in parts, I’d still thoroughly recommend it, including to fans of books like Pachinko by Min Jin Lee and Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, and Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple.
After a bit of a slow start, this book turned out to be wonderful. Patsy is a young Jamaican mother who doesn’t think she is cut out to be a mother for her 5-year-old daughter Trudy Ann (Tru) as she still hasn’t come to terms with how she feels about herself. Her goal is to get to America and reunite with her childhood friend Cecily, for whom she feels great love.
This novel covers a lot. It’s a story about the life of an illegal immigrant in a new land, which isn’t quite as rosy as hoped for. It is about different kinds of love, major mistakes, guilt, redemption, acceptance, and moving on. It deals with discrimination and finding out who you are and not letting others define you. It shows us that people who seem to be selfish and unkind can actually have some gold in their hearts.
The tale is told from two perspectives, those of Patsy and Tru. I usually favor one perspective over the other in books like this, but this time I liked Patsy’s and Tru’s stories equally, which made it less maddening to switch from one voice to another. The cast is large, but many of the characters are quite colorful; thus, I never confused them. The main characters are complex, realistic, and richly drawn—well done, Ms. Dennis-Benn. The dialogue of the Jamaican natives is written in patois, that is, basically phonetically. I felt this made the storytelling more true to life.
The writing is excellent! The scenes set in Jamaica and New York City are described beautifully, but without extra words. The story is heartrending in many aspects, but one to savor. Things were still happening in the 90-95% range and I was worried that nothing would be settled. The author however did a good job in wrapping things up though I would have preferred the ending had “more showing and less telling” even at the cost of a longer book. This, in addition to the slowish start is why I rounded down my rating.
Overall, Patsy is a compelling tale and one that made me ponder how I would have handled things had I been Patsy or Tru or even Marva, Cecily, or Claudette. Books that make me think are my favorites. I highly recommend Patsy to all looking for an engrossing, thought provoking, and very well written novel.
Updated June 12, 2021 I decided to give Patsy a re-read for Read Caribbean month because I felt the first time I read it I was a bit too hard and I had just finished reading at least 2-3 other books that explored immigration.
In re-reading this book I got such a huge appreciate for the themes explored including mother-daughter, immigration, growing up queer in the Caribbean and being a barrel child. I think what I loved most about this book was that it is not every day I pick up a book and read about a mother who just wanted to get a chance to live HER life. A lot of the books I've read we hear about men leaving to start a new life, it is great to read about the other side. I loved reading this book the second time around.
May 2019 I thoroughly enjoyed reading Nicole Dennis-Benn's debut novel Here Comes The Sun so much so Patsy was one of my most sought after ARC for 2019.
We meet Patsy, a twenty something Jamaican living in Pennyfield- what one would call a ghetto. Patsy is a government worker, but gets paid so little, she ends up doing some on the side work that is she not too proud about. Patsy is the sole breadwinner, but she is hardly able to provide for her daughter Tru and her mother who stopped working after finding the Lord because "the Lord will provide". Of course, Patsy now have to pick up the slack that the Lord doesn't fill.
By all intents Patsy's life is HARD. It just seems like she cannot catch a break. This all changes when Patsy receives the American visa she's been applying for. Patsy, like most/some Jamaicans think going to America will change their lives for the better so she grabs the opportunity to leave the island.
Patsy's oldest and dearest friend Cicely left Pennyfield a decade ago and from her letters to Patsy, moving to New York was the best thing that ever happened to her. Cicely paints a picture of hope, wealth and overall happier life once Patsy lands in New York. What Cicely does not make mention of is any plans for her and Patsy rekindling their love once she arrives. Patsy decides to put herself first for once and makes the decision to move to America, leaving behind her mother and her five-year-old daughter Tru. Her mother must now truly depend on the Lord to provide and her daughter Tru will have to live with her father and his family.
Patsy says goodbye to Jamaica, for the land of opportunity, America. Of course, once Patsy arrives in America, she realizes it is nothing as Cicely described in her letters. Reality hits hard for Patsy, an undocumented immigrant who finds herself doing things she would dream of doing if she was still in Jamaica.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Pasty. I feel she is a character I don't always read about and it was refreshing doing so. I liked how complex Patsy is as a character, Dennis-Benn wrote a believable character and that is what I loved most about the book. It is not everyday you read about motherhood like this and I felt it was explored in a truly authentic way. The themes explored in this book are not new, but I felt the author did a solid job of exploring each in a way I never thought of.
On some level I am over the narrative of Jamaicans leaving Jamaica to find a better life in the US. I am over how a lot of people think the streets of America are lined with numerous opportunities and all they need to do is get a visa, get there and their lives will be changed for the better. I am also over reading about the barrel children who will have to grow up without their parent(s). On the other hand, this is a reality in Jamaica and the Caribbean, I've had Aunts and Uncles who left Jamaica seeking a better life elsewhere. So on some level, I feel like this is a story that deserves to be told, and Nicole Dennis-Benn did this a great way.
I did enjoy the book but I didn't love it as much as I did her previous novel. I think it was a tad bit too long and the ending was a bit too rushed. Overall, this is a truly a great addition to Caribbean literature.
Some time ago there was this popular dweeb who said something about shithole countries. It sent people into an uproar, and, rightfully so. People have pride in where they come from, and they should. During the response you saw a lot of people mention how such and such from said "shithole country" is a lawyer. Such & such this other country is a doctor. Such & such from over there started a successful business. Wonderful accolade after wonderful accolade listed when describing these immigrants.
Here's the catch though, none of those countries are shitholes, and the accolades that the immigrants from said countries accomplished doesn't matter, because success story, or not, your life is still priceless. Where you come from & what you've obtained doesn't change that.
Take Patsy for example, the eponymous protagonist of Nicole Dennis-Benn's superb second novel. If you saw her on the streets of Brooklyn, where she ends up, you probably would see a Black woman. You dig a little deeper and you learn she immigrated to Brooklyn from Jamaica. You continue digging and you learn what most people would probably deem despicable: she abandoned her daughter, Tru, to come to America for a better shot at life & love, hopefully with the woman of her dreams, Cicely.
Dennis-Benn could have taken the route of subtly bashing Patsy, subtly judging her throughout the novel, but that would've been too easy, perhaps unremarkable.
Those familiar with Here Comes the Sun know that NDB is the opposite of unremarkable, so she told this story the challenging way: Writing Patsy with grace, warmth, compassion & love.
She even challenges the reader by writing Patsy's arc alongside Tru's, who remains in Jamaica, patiently waiting for the highly unlikely, Patsy's return.
Patsy is a novel of what women and girls will sacrifice &/or deal with in order to 100% fulfill their ambitions + live the life of their dreams. A novel of being your true shelf and the pain that accompanies being who you were born to be. A novel that shows you that we all deserve love.
A novel that showcases with a ton of heart, ability & talent another multitude within the Black American experience, that of the immigrant.
Given the premise, Patsy should have been more emotionally resonant. Nicole Dennis-Benn wrote about the experience of a Jamaican immigrant (Patsy) in America after she leaves her young daughter (Tru) behind in Jamaica. The relationship between the two isn't established strongly, so I didn't feel the sadness Dennis-Benn wanted me to feel. The main character's struggle to understand and accept her sexual identity feels similarly distant.
Also disappointing is the shallow depiction of the immigrant experience. In portraying the practical side of this, Dennis-Benn mostly succeeded. I felt the main character's desperation to find a job and make a decent living wage (in New York City, no less) as she got dangerously close to homelessness. What I didn't feel as well was her inner life. I imagine many immigrants feel extreme culture shock after arriving in America, but aside from having Patsy note certain differences in her new physical environment (for example, stores and number of white people), Dennis-Benn never delved into how frightening and even depressing such culture shock must be. She over-intellectualized this character's thoughts so that Patsy spends time analyzing and brooding but not truly feeling her pain and anxiety--over many things--as she deals with a lot that Dennis-Benn failed to explore. I believe Dennis-Benn could have improved this with several scenes showing the character's guilt and anguish over the abandonment of her daughter, fear in her new country, and worry over her sudden, significant physical change (also unexplored, so it feels pointless).
The story is split so that some chapters are about Patsy and others about Tru in Jamaica. The same problems apply to Tru's chapters. The girl also struggles to adjust to life without her beloved mother, but Dennis-Benn instead showed Tru's day-to-day life, especially her love of soccer. She only touched upon the girl's sadness with , but then she moved on from those to return to Tru's love of soccer, her relationship with her dad and his wife, and her friendships.
This isn't how human beings operate. They're complex. They feel and can be tormented by guilt and rage. For it to be a moving, nuanced novel, Patsy needed to have this.
What redeems this book is Dennis-Benn's writing, which is literary and contemplative without ever being fussy. Dialogue also impressed me. Most is written in patois, similar to how Zora Neale Hurston wrote Their Eyes Were Watching God. Written patois can slow a story, but the patois here reads smoothly, and Dennis-Benn used it effectively in distinguishing her characters and establishing setting. I consider this ability the mark of a gifted story-teller.
NOTE: I received this as an Advanced Reader Copy from BookBrowse in May 2019.
As with Dennis-Benn’s debut, Here Comes the Sun, Patsy explores the rich inner lives of a Jamaican mother and her daughter. At the story’s start Patsy moves to America to pursue romance with her childhood friend Cecily, leaving her five-year-old daughter Tru in Jamaica, under the care of her distant father Roy. Once in America Patsy finds Cecily happily married and unwilling to abandon her conservative husband; rejected but reluctant to return to Jamaica and assume the role of mother, Patsy embarks upon years of struggling to survive as an undocumented queer immigrant, forced to nanny the children of wealthy white gentrifiers in Brooklyn. The novel alternates between sensitively rendering her struggle and charting Tru’s coming of age motherless and confused. Unlike the writer’s debut the story unfolds over the course of years and rarely feels rushed. Laced with caustic commentary about America, the work fully develops the fraught bond between Patsy and Tru, and thoughtfully reflects on a vast array of themes, from Jamaican-American identity to the legacy of childhood trauma.
I am not quite sure how to articulate what I feel after reading Patsy. In Dennis-Benn's second novel we are once again asked to explore diverse subject matter: immigration, LGBTQ+, religion, colorism, politics . . . motherhood. Although I left motherhood for last this is the part of the book that I struggled with the most. When Patsy decided that she is going to chase after the American dream and leave her daughter behind I was judgemental. As a mother I was pissed and unsympathetic. I could not fathom going to another country without my child for the sake of my own freedom. But Patsy does just that. She leaves Jamaica for the freedom to be with the woman she loves. She wants to be able to love without fear, judgement or reprisals. Patsy leaves to be free of her mother's religiosity with her house full of idols to a White Jesus and the smell of rosemary oil anointing the walls. Although she loves Tru, Patsy has always known she did not want to be a mother. In some respects she sees her departure as a gift. When Patsy leaves she knows she is never coming back.
Patsy made me uncomfortable because it forced me to look at motherhood from a different perspective. Although I may never agree with the character Patsy's decisions, by the end of the book I felt I had come to understand her. Dennis-Benn's ability to draw complex characters and push her readers to rethink their original position is why her stories are so compelling.
Special thanks to NetGalley, Liveright Publishing and Nichole Dennis-Benn for access to this book.
I'm just convinced that I shouldn't read Nicole Dennis-Benn unless I want my soul to be torn to shreds. I read her debut novel awhile ago and enjoyed it. It took me some time to get the urge to pick up this one and as expected it did not disappoint, but still managed to tear my soul into shreds. CW: sexual assault, colorism, racism, rape, pregnancy of a minor, suicide on page, attempted suicide, depression, domestic abuse, sexism, homophobia, parental abandonment, miscarriage.
Patsyis told in alternating perspectives of Patsy and her daughter Tru. In the beginning of the novel, readers get insight to Patsy's desire to leave Jamaica and move to America to inevitably make things work with her childhood love Cecily. As a result of this desire, Patsy is willing to leave Tru behind under the care of her father. Once she arrives in New York, Patsy realizes that things are more complicated than she anticipates and she ends up having to become a nanny and restroom attendant just to make ends meet. Meanwhile, Tru is struggling with her own identity as she is forced to live with a father and step-mother she doesn't know that well. It is clear from her narrative that she is also struggling with why her mother would abandon and leave her without any form of communication.
There are so many themes explored in this book with a great portion of them being dark in nature. As a mother, it was hard for me to read parts of Patsy's narrative. It is clear that Patsy struggles with the whole idea of motherhood. And while she does appear to love and care for Tru to a certain extent, her inability to explore her own identity under the strict and often detrimental household of her extremely religious mother has caused an extreme level of harm. This harm prevents Patsy from wanting to confront any of her supposed responsibilities. Running instantly becomes her solution to everything. Unfortunately, while in New York the running eventually catches up with her and she faces a series of hardships that comes with being an undocumented immigrant. In the meantime, Tru grows up unable to reckon with the missing relationship with her mother leading to an unhealthy relationship with her own identity. Both characters illustrate the deadly nature of familial cycles in which trauma and pain continue to cycle their way through every generation. It leads to a climax that left me more than heartbroken. I couldn't help but feel for Tru in so many different ways.
One thing that I always enjoy about Nicole Dennis-Benn is her writing and her exploration of queerness against the backdrop of Jamaican culture. The lyrical nature of her writing and the exploration of queer identity never ceases to amaze me. I wouldn't say that either of her books is for the faint of heart because of the complexity and darkness of the topics, but she does so with a level of grace and realness that I always appreciate. Patsy took me on a completely different journey than her first book and I credit that to my role as a parent in addition to the familial cycle of trauma I want to prevent my daughter from inheriting. There is so much to be said about the work that comes with that task, but there is even more to be said about the damning affects of what happens when the cycle is not broken. It is clearly, beautifully, and heartbreakingly captured in the dynamics shared by Patsy and Tru. I highly recommend this book, but be sure to check out the content warnings before diving in.
4.5 stars. With PATSY, Nicole Dennis-Benn has with just two novels declared herself as one of our best and most important writers. It's not a small feat. Dennis-Benn writes urgent, beautiful, heartwrenching stories about the women the world ignores.
Patsy has made a surprisingly good life for herself for a woman in a poor neighborhood in Jamaica. Her life has not been easy, her mother is so obsessed with religion that she doesn't contribute to the family at all, and Patsy's daughter was an unplanned pregnancy with a man who is married to another woman. It may be as good of a life as Patsy can hope for, but Patsy dreams of more: she dreams of a life with Cicely, her childhood friend and eventually lover, who now lives in New York City. When Patsy gets a long-awaited visa, she is ready to leave her life behind entirely for Cicely, including her 6-year-old daughter Tru.
Patsy's new life isn't as simple as she expected and we follow her through years of life as an undocumented immigrant after years of having an office job. Patsy is not grateful for any job she can get, she is ashamed and frustrated, she wants more, and she is intensely lonely.
The book does not take the easy way out, it does not let us follow Patsy and try to forget what she has left behind. Instead it follows both Patsy and Tru through time. We learn more about Patsy's past, all she has gone through, including the many ways her own mother abandoned her and the difficulty she had bonding with her own daughter. We see all the way she feels guilt for Tru and how that guilt paralyzes her. Simultaneously, we see Tru move in with her father's family, how much she misses her mother, and how she copes as she gradually realizes her mother isn't coming back. This is what makes the book so difficult, but it is also what makes it so real. We see how trauma runs through Patsy's past, we see what she is trying to save her daughter from, but we also see how Patsy doesn't fully understand her decision or her own guilt. We are getting books that reconsider and reexamine motherhood, and PATSY is definitely one of them as well as one of the most unflinching and honest about what happens when you do not want to be a mother. I would put it up against THE DAYS OF ABANDONMENT as one of the most difficult but most honest books about the difficulties of motherhood.
Patsy and Tru are drawn in such detail, they are so fully-formed by the end of the novel that it is hard to believe they are not real. Dennis-Benn is truly able to give you something that is so firmly rooted in emotion that it manages to feel epic in scale because the feelings it taps into are so real and so intense.
I listened to the audiobook as I was in a bit of a print slump, and it was a good choice. I like books with accents and dialects on audio quite a lot. Here the reader was slower than I usually like, but I didn't mind at all, it felt like she was speaking with such thought and care, and the rhythm and speed fit the story.
I did not enjoy this one nearly as much as her first book. Despite its length, this book failed to provide much clarity on the title character or her motivations throughout much of the story. The book was also unfocused and the narrative shifted too often - a love story, an immigrant story, a coming of age story? She is a good writer, but couldn’t seem to find the guiding story for the title character. 2.5⭐️
This is a book I meant to have read in 2019, yet it’s been sitting on my shelf so I dusted it off to read it. It was great it was on audio at my library too then I could listen on the go.
It did take me a minute to get into this book as it had a definite slow start.
It’s told from two perspectives which was an enjoyable experience as I grew to understand both.
When Patsy left her daughter behind to go after what she wanted I was very annoyed. I could never understand a mother leaving her child. It took me a while to accept yet, as I got to understand Patsy a bit better I could see her POV although not 100% understand it so it blurred my vision for quite a while until I came to accept, there are circumstances where others have choices and it’s not for me to judge. Once I go that settled in my mind I found myself really enjoying this book.
Not all mums are fully grown emotionally to be a mum but that doesn’t mean you love your child less.
This book tackled same sex, racism, religion and politics to name but a few. The author did this very well.
It’s a story that both surprised me and made me feel. Definitely will seek more books from this author, great style of writing.
Another brilliant read for #ReadCaribbean, hosted by @bookofcinz! I bought this one because of Cindy and Jesse @bowtiesandbooks and I absolutely devoured it. Anything to do with motherhood in a book, however unconventional, always ticks a huge box for me. This sprawling saga, spanning two decades across Jamaica and America, hooked its claws in me from page one. . Patsy leaves Jamaica for New York almost straight away in the book, determined to start a new life for herself and rekindle her love with her childhood best friend, Cicely, at any cost. But that cost is Tru, her five-year-old daughter, whom she leaves behind with her father and his new wife. This book would make such an incredible book club pick, because everyone would feel so differently about Patsy and her actions. There is no right answer and there's so much to consider and discuss. . Dennis-Benn addresses a lot of themes throughout the book, and it can get very emotional as she looks at sexual abuse, self-harm and racism. I was particularly moved by Dennis-Benn's exploration of sexuality and gender through the characters of Patsy and Tru. But every issue in this book gives you something to think about. . Patsy's experiences as an undocumented immigrant in New York is an emotional rollercoaster. I LOVED her friendship with Fionna, a woman from Trinidad & Tobago who works at the same restaurant as Patsy, but through a heartwarming friendship, Dennis-Benn also unpacks the darker issue of immigrant women being lured into fake husband schemes for a green card, risking losing their entire savings. She also draws your attention to the myriad microaggressions directed at Patsy during her time in New York. . I agree with other reviewers who have expressed that the ending feels a little rushed and wrapped up within a few pages. I could have easily read 50-100 more pages of this story!
My wife has set herself a challenge to read books by black women authors this year and somehow, I find myself reading reviews and gravitating towards the same kind of book. Patsy is the story of a young woman with a five-year-old daughter living in a poor area of Jamaica. She is desperate to get to America to find Cicely, her love and best friend from childhood, at the cost of just about everything she has, including her daughter. She finally manages to get her visa but what she finds in Brooklyn is not quite what Cicely has portrayed in her letters.
This is a beautifully written story which powerfully expresses the life of women who migrate for work or the hope of a better life in another country. It’s written from both Patsy’s and her daughter, Tru’s, points of view giving an incredible account of the trials and development both of them have to go through. Patsy is a complex character who and I found myself constantly having to pull myself back from judgement, even when I’m reading Tru’s point of view.
So much of it is such a stark reality check on the difference in the lives of women with privilege versus women who have so few choices. Women from poor communities have so little say over their lives and their bodies. They do what is expected of them in order to survive. Their bodies belong to men, sex is expected and consent is not needed. Sexual orientation and gender identity is not something they have any power to express. Possibly one of the saddest things though, is that for someone like Patsy, her status is pretty much the same in the US as it is in Jamaica.
I highly recommend it even though it’s quite emotionally draining.
Book received from Netgalley and Oneworld Publications for an honest review.
Nicole Dennis-Benn is an amazing writer. This was just too depressing for me. It was very real, but it just seemed like everything about both women's experiences was horrible, even within the good parts. I kept reading because the writing pulled me in so much. The characters were real and I definitely have experienced and seen the patriarchy and misogyny and homophobia of Jamaican culture that is displayed here. I liked that none of the characters were perfect or even really good.
I also liked that there were very specific Black things, like Black people who have been raised by white people and look down upon other Black people as a result, or Black people looking down on each other in general, the microagressions from the white people Patsy deals with, the whole thing with a white man opening a Jamaican restaurant based on one trip he took to the country... like, you cannot say this book isn't real. But I guess that's what made it hard for me.
There's also a LOT of both main characters dealing with depression, self-harm, and a suicide attempt, and I think that's what kept me from fully enjoying the book, since those are things that are personally triggering for me. Sometimes I can deal with and sometimes I can't. I admit I had to skim some of the passages because I just couldn't let myself get into that, even though they were accurate and ugh.
Good things: It's fun to read Dennis-Benn's books because I sit next to my mom and ask her about all the patois words I don't know. We talk about the food I've never had before. I see aspects of my culture reflected that I've only seen once or twice before or have heard from my grandmother. I loved the queerness, especially since I don't get to see many books about Black women loving each other romantically. I loved that both mother and daughter were queer. That's the coolest.
After loving this author's last novel (Here Comes the Sun), I was looking forward to this one. I'm slightly disappointed that it isn't the same narrator because while this one is good, the previous one was luminous. I ended wondering if the characters in the first know the characters in the second but couldn't find out for sure.
At first this seems like another immigration novel, of a person trying to make it in America and finding it harder than they expected. And surely that is present in the novel, but in the end you find it asking much harder questions - how much is a person worth? Is their well-being enough to justify leaving behind a child if there is a change they can live a life elsewhere that they couldn't live where they were? Can a child have a relationship with or forgive a parent who has abandoned them? Will religion forever separate people of different sexual and gender identities, forcing them to make such decisions? Where does the blame actually lie?
So much to think and talk about. I empathize for Patsy while pondering her choices.
Oh and this was on the long list for the Tournament of Books, but I would have read it regardless.
I am in awe of two things in this book: a) its courage and b) its complexity.
This is the first non-indie-published book I've read that addresses lesbian desire on pretty much every page. It does so without much fanfare or identity quest. In fact, if you don't know to find it, at first you will not be certain that that's what you should call it. The lesbian desire here is born as best-friend-from-childhood sweet sweet attachment and develops slowly into lifelong erotic passion. There is no point at which it is labeled or called anything other than love.
Now let me make be clear: calling same-sex desire "lesbian" or "gay" or "queer" is a good thing. I am not anti-labels. But Dennis-Benn's decision to make her book about love and desire rather than identity is charming and lovely and perfectly fine, and it carries the book beautifully.
It is brave, it seems to me, to write a book that is so steeped in a woman's love for another woman, or other women. It is even braver that Dennis-Benn makes both mother and daughter women who love women. I have never seen it done before. It's brave and beautiful.
Dennis-Benn is an immensely gifted story-teller who skillfully plants narrative seeds all through the book and brings them to fruition in an organic and powerful way. They cover, first, Jamaica and the intricate social and economic reality of that country. Also: the confused feelings that surround incest, poverty and social inequality, colorism, the numbing and abusive potential of faith, ambivalent feelings about motherhood, parental neglect, immigration to the United States, the miserable condition of undocumented immigrants, racism, trauma, and despair. It's a lot of ground to cover but Dennis-Benn does it with apparent effortlessness and much power.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
This is a very good novel, following the consequences of a mother’s decision to immigrate and abandon her young daughter in the process. Patsy is a young, queer Jamaican woman carrying a lot of trauma and who never wanted to be a mother, and when she’s approved for a tourist visa to the U.S. she takes off, hoping to find better work than her low-paid office job and to rekindle a teenage romance with her best friend, who vanished to New York many years before. She leaves behind her five-year-old daughter Tru, in the hands of a father Tru barely knows. The story follows Patsy and Tru in alternating storylines (though spending more time with Patsy, as one would expect from the title), as Patsy learns that undocumented life in New York means poor work, poor pay and poor housing and struggles to make a life for herself anyway, while Tru grapples with her mother’s abandonment, her new family, and as a teenager, her own sexuality and gender identity.
(Some vaguely spoiler-y comments below, though this isn’t a book that depends on suspense!)
Though it covers more than ten years, the book has a somewhat leisurely pace, taking time to develop its characters’ psyches and a variety of experiences that they have, as well as a bunch of secondary characters. The author isn’t afraid to make her characters difficult—in particular, readers are supposed to struggle with Patsy’s abandonment of Tru, and while the slow unfolding of Patsy’s issues makes clear why she does it, the book also never lets the reader forget Tru’s pain, and it’s hard to escape the conclusion that while Patsy may be ensuring her own psychological survival, she’s doing it at the expense of her daughter’s. I love that the book digs into this, not looking away or excusing or prettifying the situation. I also empathized with both characters and found their stories engaging. Meanwhile the writing is good, the Jamaican patois adds color though it may take a little getting used to, and I appreciated the exploration of the lives of undocumented immigrants in New York without turning the novel into an op-ed. And while this is definitely an “LGBT book” in the sense that both protagonists are queer, it doesn’t get caught up in labels but instead focuses on their individual relationships. I kept expecting Tru to come out as trans, but while she probably will in the future, it never happens in the book. (I definitely think of these characters as real people whose stories aren’t over yet, which is a testament to the author’s writing, because I don’t anticipate a sequel.)
Others have commented that the book runs a little long (it may, but I enjoyed the journey) and that the end is a little Hollywood (it is, but after all the characters go through I was happy to see it). Me, I found the ten-year skip rocky, but the book recovers. My biggest frustration is how much the plot depends on sheer stupidity from Patsy, by which I mean not seeking relevant information before making big decisions. Quitting her job to move to New York and be with Cicely, without first discussing it (despite sufficient communication for Cicely to pick her up at the airport), or asking what jobs might be available to her in the U.S., was never going to end well, though at least that’s at the beginning and Patsy has time to grow some sense. Except she doesn’t, because at the end, after 10 years of no contact with her daughter—not even any contact about her with anyone who’s around Tru—Patsy decides to blow her savings buying her clothing and accessories and shit. Literally at this point I don’t think she knows whether Tru is dead or alive, let alone what she needs (maybe the money could be spent more usefully than on random consumer goods), what she likes, or even her size (which is generally considered essential in clothes shopping). Even if Tru weren’t incredibly butch, this could not possibly end well. And it was hard to feel Patsy had grown or learned anything while still making these stupid and cowardly mistakes. I’m on the fence about whether this is a criticism of the book or the character, because on the one hand the book makes no bones about how awful Patsy’s decisions are, but on the other it kind of elides how many could have been avoided—even taking her baggage into account—with a few common-sense questions. So the character comes across as perhaps dumber than intended to lend drama to her narrative. But real people can be dumb too.
In the end I did really like this and get caught up in the story, and I’m interested in reading the author’s other book, though I have some hesitation about its apparently being even darker than this one!
Nicole is a Jamaican writer who, from book to book, reveals more new things about life in Jamaica that I didn't know.
She levelled up in this sophomore title producing an imagery laden, emotionally precise novel about two characters who exist outside society's prescribed bounds of womanhood. The light and the darkness, birds in flight or caged, curses and blessings, that scent of blood...
I don't know that I ever liked Patsy but I ached for her. Tru had my whole heart. The book ended a little too neatly but I was content to see characters getting a kind of happy ending without being asked to change who they were, fundamentally.
Nicole's depiction of sexual abuse is far more complex and nuanced than I'm used to seeing in print or visual media. This and Here Comes the Sun are exactly the kind of books that should be assigned in schools.
Not sure why I only gave this 4 stars. 4.5? 😄 Nah lie, mi kinda fraid of Nicole's next book if is another gear up.
Just like Here Come the Sun, Patsy has left me wanting more from these characters. This is more than a coming of age story. More than a story about heartache, abuse, love, self denial, family, poverty, and relationships. It's a story that weaves a tale of folks just trying to fill their lives with happiness and love. These 2 things did not come easy and without a heavy price, some may never find it.
Nicole Y. Dennis-Benn is a genius! I could have easily read 200 more pages of this novel. Patsy will be relevant 30 years from now. It's a timeless story with a conscious and heavy heartbeat. I guess you can say I loved this book. I hope to come off my book high soon and give a formal review, but until then please pick up this amazing book.
Do you ever have that feeling when you don’t even want to put words on paper because no words could fully encapsulate the brilliance of a book you just read? That’s how I feel with Patsy. I am going to be a mediocre guide trying to give you a semblance of an idea of what this book is about. There are so many amazing articles circulating around that you must read so that you can get help in uncovering the layers of this book. As always, my best method of trying to review this book is to show what I felt reading it. I was awed by this story. There are no conventional tropes to be found here, even trying to summarize this book feels like a disservice to this story. I will try my best though. I had mentioned in an earlier post that I felt as if I was reading Annie John through the mother’s perspective and yet, as I continued reading the book became so much more than that. I recently read an article where Nichole Dennis-Benn found herself judging Patsy for the choices that she made. I was so happy she said that because I had a hard time not condemning Patsy in the beginning. But how can I judge her when I have no idea what I would have done in her situation? You see, Patsy is sold on the fantasy of coming to America, of hiding amongst the throng of people that live in New York and finally being able to be herself. Dennis-Benn does such an amazing job at showing how nothing can be hidden in Jamaica, and Patsy seeks a freedom to be herself and to have choices. I didn’t judge Patsy for that but it was hard to come to terms that for Patsy to take on this journey, she has to leave her daughter, Tru, behind. The thing is that Pasty never wanted to be a mother and once again, that choice was taken away from her. How can I judge a person that sought a right to choose who she wanted to be? When Patsy comes to this country she can be herself but unfortunately, she is now branded as undocumented and she sees that once again she is limited by the identities given to her by others. Meanwhile, in Jamaica, Tru is dealing with a mother who abandoned her, living with her father, and once again dealing with the identities heaped upon her. Tru is gender nonconforming but the world around them wants to limit their choices especially after getting their period. It’s a harrowing journey and I loved following the minds of both Tru and Patsy. It is an unforgettable story, filled with themes of immigration, identity especially queer identities, colonialism, racism, and it forces you the reader to look beyond the facts at the reality that forces women like Patsy to make choices that may at first glance seem unbelievable. You grapple with the tension of the lack of freedom and are forced to reconcile that life isn’t simple and one action can’t simply be judged. I absolutely loved this book and highly recommend it. It was filled with hope and determination. I was so happy with the ending and again, I can’t say enough to really tell you what it’s about. All I can say is that it is a must-read.
Patsy is the story of a woman who comes to America to find herself and escape the life she has known. Patsy left her home in Jamaica in search of a new start, and to be reunited with her oldest friend (and woman of her dreams), Cicely. However, Patsy quickly learns that things are not as easy as she had hoped they would be. She must work odd jobs to make ends meet, and is forced to live in a cramped and run-down apartment. Despite these challenges, Patsy is determined to make the most of her new life.
Patsy is an important story because it provides a voice to those who are often marginalized and ignored. It brings meaning to motherhood and asks important questions including when does a mother's dreams become more important than her daughters? It tells the story of a woman who is forced to leave her family behind in order to find herself. Patsy is a powerful symbol of strength and resilience, and her story is one that needs to be told. I hope that readers will be inspired by Patsy's courage and determination, and will be encouraged to follow their own dreams, no matter what obstacles they may face.
In the world of Instagram, where we often see the same authors getting so much praise (nothing wrong with that), I really wish authors like Nicole Dennis-Benn could receive a sliver of it - a truly spectacular and gripping tale I would recommend to all who loved the Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.
Patsy immigrates from her impoverished city in Jamaica to America, leaving behind her five year old daughter, Tru. The book alternates POVs and we get to hear from Patsy, who discovers life in America isn’t at all what she expected and Tru, who speaks of her time growing up with her father in Jamaica.
I was rooting for Patsy throughout the novel and just adored her character. The entire cast of characters add so much oomph to this book as well! So many themes are discussed in this book. Immigration, racism, queer identity, depression, self-harm, love, and so much more that I can’t adequately describe.
Was this book perfect? No. But I loved it. I think the ending wrapped up too quickly, considering how incredibly detailed the rest of the book was. I loved the ending (no spoilers here!) and appreciate that the author didn’t feel the need to wrap up every single loose end for the reader.
I did a print/audio combo for this one and LOVED the audio so much! Some of the dialogue is in Patois and it was so beneficial to hear it spoken as it should be, instead of me completely butchering it. 🙈 If you are interested in making the audiobook switch to @librofm see the link in my bio (or use code ACEOFPAGES).
Synopsis The eponymous Patsy of the books title is the person we, the readers, follow, and empathise with throughout the book. We want to love our lead characters, right? Or at least despise them unequivocally if they are guilty of bad behaviour. Patsy doesn’t conform to this norm. The reader has her back, all the while knowing, from the outset, that she has abandoned her only child, and made false promises to that young girl. Patsy does not follow the expectations of women, to aspire to motherhood. She has suffered herself in childhood, and she works out a style of life and friendship having travelled to the United States. Her daughter is a chip off the old block, and achieves her own goals and sense of self. It’s a thoroughly modern account of the search for personal identity, and a well written, thought provoking one.
Highlights * The Jamaican patois. A point amplified by Denise in her talk. God much ‘ave no room in Him army gah do coward at heart”(34) “How is it fate if yuh have control over it?”(300)(331) * The portrayal of the male characters. Roy and Pope initially appear to be unreconstructed misogynists, and exploiters. Both men reveal themselves to have deeper sides, not solely taken up with personal gratification Pope (365 ) Yuh see dat preacher man in di pulpit? Him is no different from me. Those politicians ‘pon dem high horse? No different from me either. * The alternating chapter structure of Patsy and Tru. In different countries, at different ages, their ongoing life experiences mirror one another
Historical and/or Literary context Emily Dickinson quote: “ Hope is the thing with feathers”(102) The great metaphor of hope that sustains even while we may all experience some dark times
Recommend I recently read this year’s Booker Prize longlister Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo . Patsy is a good complement to that book, and that’s praise.
I think this has a good chance of recognition in the 2020 Women’s Prize for Literature, if not the National Book Awards in America.
I very much enjoyed an evening In discussion with Candice Carty-Williams at Foyles 23/7/19
* Who informed your main character? - On her way to Staten Island from Crown Heights, on the commuter journey, N D-B kept seeing adverts “Come to Jamaica”. As an immigrant herself it planted a seed. She was writing Here Comes the Sun at the time, but the idea wouldn’t leave her. - American dream “the good immigrant”. Wanted to write against that trope. * Characterisation and the flow of the book? - Women aspire to motherhood. The challenge was to make her character likeable, with abandonment thrown in. Not easy. N D-B is writing untold stories, unpacking the deep, dark ones. * Loss, loneliness, grief. - N D-B. books were her own companions. Age seventeen, in the USA. Had to fit in. Grew up on the Cosby show image. * Jamaican Patois. - Writing in patois was important. Want to reclaim our language. It’s more than a joke, or just language to “cuss somebody out”! * Personal vulnerability - Patsy suffers some depression. “The devil’s ‘flu”. In Jamaica there is no such thing as therapy. Tru also suffers (cutting)
* Lesbian themes - N D-B stated forcefully: I not a lesbian. “I am fluid”. Examples in Patsy include the strong relationships with Roy and Barrington. Tru is gender fluid, and non-conforming. - The book is set 1998-2008 and at that time the language to describe didn’t exist. - Not everybody is homophobic in Jamaica, Tru is welcomed by the boys in her soccer ability.
This book had my emotions everywhere. Tru!!!! Tru had my heart hurting for chapters. The prolonged process to maneuver through this book was due to Tru and Minerva. They didn’t give my anxiety any rest. I’m so pleased with my decision to start this book over from the beginning and go slow with it. I don’t regret giving this book and characters my full attention.
I highly recommend!
Thank you to Netgalley and W.W. Norton & Company for the opportunity to review this title.
Ahhh wow Nicole Dennis-Benn's characters and stories are like no other. This book was stunning. I loved her first novel and I think I loved this one even more. I will never forget the characters of Patsy and her child Tru. Dennis-Benn examines how the world has set them up to fail - poor, queer, immigrant, women, Black, and dark-skinned - and the impact this has on their personal relationships, and how they continue to seek freedom on their own terms.
Kudos to Dennis-Benn for creating strong but problematic characters and keeping us on their side as they make tough choices to survive in the face of poverty, institutional racism and family dysfunction. Wonderful use of the settings in Jamaica and Brooklyn. Maybe 4.5 stars, because I’m feeling downright emotional about almost every one of these characters. This is a step up from Dennis-Benn’s debut novel, and I’ll be excited to see her career unfold.
Impressed. Bold decisions by Patsy, and even bolder by Nicole Dennis-Benn to explore these themes in fiction. It is a rare feat and only happens with the very best fiction, that an author creates a character that gets into your head and stays long after the book has been put down, Patsy is such a character. I begin to think of this woman as a real individual, that’s how lush and authentic was the story and prose. The life of immigration is under the scope here and Patsy makes a decision to go to America and leave her young daughter and her pious mother behind in Jamaica.
Her reason is for a better life, but her friend Cicely is a heavy indirect influence on Patsy. Through letters, that I feel we’re generally misread by Patsy, the possible reconnection with her friend Cicely adds to Patsy’s wanting spirit. She couches her move in the words of wanting ‘a better life’ , I was hoping Patsy wouldn’t act on the basis of words, possibly, probably, misinterpreted.
But act she did and leaves her only daughter in the care of her father. Ordinarily, one would think, okay no big deal, the child is with the father, how bad can that be. Well, not necessarily bad, but definitely not an ideal situation when the father has to rely on girlfriend to help raise this daughter amongst his other children, by the way, boys!
Patsy finds things a bit tough in NY, as I’m sure all immigrants do. Having to navigate shelter and work without “papers.” But Patsy soldiers on, and feeling guilty about her abandoning her young daughter she fails to keep in touch through the years and thus makes the reader question her decision making. Love makes people do strange things and even stranger things when it’s just the thought of love.
Nicole Dennis-Benn captures the energy of NYC, like one who has lived there and the authenticity of the narrative makes for a compelling read. Although I didn’t think her actions were wholesome, I still rooted for Patsy to be “successful“ in life and love. The themes of immigrant life, love, religion, and sacrifice are all explored here through a complex, striving, longing, selfish? character that is Patsy, whom you’ll surely think about after you end this 5-star book. Patsy is out now. Big thanks to Anna @never_without_a_book for sharing her ARC.