“Penelope Grand has scrapped her failed career as an artist in Pittsburgh and moved back to Brooklyn to keep an eye on her ailing father. She’s accepted that her future won’t be what she’d dreamed, but now, as gentrification has completely reshaped her old neighborhood, even her past is unrecognizable. Old haunts have been razed, and wealthy white strangers have replaced every familiar face in Bed-Stuy. Even her mother, Mirella, has abandoned the family to reclaim her roots in the Dominican Republic. That took courage. It’s also unforgivable.”
This book had me in my emotions the entire time. Probably because I’m really sensitive to the relationship between mothers and daughters. I hate the notion that bringing a child into the world and giving them food, clothing, and a safe place to sleep is something that should be lauded and praised. Children require care. They require mothering. And Penelope Grand’s mother is not a loving mother. Or at least that’s how Penelope feels.
Mirella feels like she is a provider. She wants so much for her daughter. So much that she couldn’t have for herself. Her daughter could be anything that she wants, a doctor, a lawyer anything if she would just stop playing around with her art. “It might be that only artists want their children to become artists.”
Unsure of how to connect with her child Mirella provides. She dreams for, she tries to guide but she can’t connect with her daughter. Maybe, this is because she had a difficult childhood and her own young mother didn’t properly bond with her. Maybe, this is because her father died when she was so young. Maybe, it’s because she is a Dominican Immigrant married to an African American man living in Brooklyn and she doesn’t understand or agree with most of their American customs.
Mirella and Penelope’s disconnect causes Penelope to leave home and move to Pittsburgh where she lives an isolated life until her father gets hurt causing her to return to Brooklyn. Nothing about Brooklyn is the same, Mirella is gone, her family’s store is gone, her father has declined physically and the Gentrifying Landlord family that she rents a room from may seem to have it all together but they have a whole heap of issues of their own.
Back in Brooklyn Penelope is forced to deal with the change that comes along with the changing landscape of her neighborhood, her aging father, and the hurt that she’s been carrying from her childhood and her relationship with her mother.
As Penelope navigates her new life and faces her path we realize how much hurt can be passed down from generation to generation and what happens when the cycle isn’t stopped. Back in her home country of the Dominican Republic Mirella tries to find a way to connect with her daughter. Now that she has built home of her own she realizes that all that is missing of her life is a connection with her daughter.
I really enjoyed this book and give it 5 stars. I really disliked Penelope and her mother Mirella for most of the story but my reason for disliking them is because I know people like them. People who carry old slights around and ignore the love that is given to them because it’s not the love that they want. People who use these feelings and emotions to excuse their reckless behaviors and avoid true growth. In the end Penelope begins to acknowledge these things and begins to grow.
As a writer when you take your readers through so many upsetting emotions they should be given some sort of reward and Penelope’s growth at the end was reward enough for me. I also appreciated how the writer subtly showed the effects of gentrification on the native Brooklynites. It wasn’t pushy or preachy just stating what was so and I loved that.
Images from Author’s website: naimacoster.com
ProTip: I simultaneously read this book on Audiobook and Kindle. I tend to do this whenever possible so that I can listen to the book while driving and such and physically read the book when I can.