Nicole Dennis-Benn’s vivid portrayal of motherhood, racism, womanhood, and sexuality is the timely story of an undocumented immigrant, Patsy, who leaves her daughter behind in search of new opportunities in America, and hoping to reunite with Cicely – her former best friend and secret lover.
Dennis-Benn takes us into the mind of Patsy and her motives. This tender and passionate story mediates on how immigration shapes lives, from both without and within. Her compassionate devotion to her characters makes for a colourful and immersive plot: you are part of Patsy’s journey, not an external observer. Dennis-Benn explores the silent bonds of love across continents, the strange forces that divide us while simultaneously binding us to those we love.
Annoyingly, this book is classified as a “coming-of-age story” – an overused term which I hate here particularly, because Patsy offers so much more. Patsy’s defiant act of leaving her daughter in the hope of being free to love whomever she wants underpins the novel. It is through her new-found freedom that she discovers a sense of self in an unapologetically restrictive society.
For me, the most interesting character in the novel is not Patsy but rather her daughter Tru. Back home in Jamaica, Tru questions her sexuality and identity while grappling with her mothers’ abandonment. Dennis-Benn explores how rejection negatively affects the upbringing of a young person and why many of us attempt to replicate the lives of our parents.
The bittersweet farewell with her strict mother is a moment both of sorrow and relief. Tru’s psychological trauma causes her to suffer from mental health issues. It is only through the soothing power of friendship that she discovers a new level of belonging.
The fact that this is Dennis-Benn’s second novel after Here Comes the Sun is a testament to her success as a graciously compelling and honest writer. The familiar narrative perfectly captures the feeling of isolation from most, if not all the characters, making the story timeless.