Patsy: a lively, heartwarming winter read

It took me two months to start, love, and finish Patsy (Liveright Publishing, 2019), Nicole Dennis-Benn’s second novel. When I finish a book, I often complain about how it wasn’t long enough or how I miss spending time with the characters. Patsy is 423 pages long and takes place over more than a decade, following the journeys of Patsy, a mother who immigrates to the U.S., and Tru, the child she left behind in Jamaica.

I don’t often review fiction, but I’m so glad I heard about this novel. Patsy is a love story, a bildungsroman, and a story about creating home with those you love rather than those you idolize. It grapples with the gender binary, queer romance, and the religious disapproval so many LGBTQ+ people face, whether from relatives or their spiritual communities. It took me several weeks to get wrapped up in the story because I was really frustrated with Patsy at the beginning of the novel — parents who are willing to abandon their kids in search of a better life are tough protagonists — but my discomfort was part of the reason Dennis-Benn chose the characters she did. Even with every ounce of feminism I profess to have, I still readily fall into mom-shaming habits. (Yikes!)

Dennis-Benn’s prose is luscious, painting rich landscapes in Jamaica, stark scenes of poverty in Brooklyn and Pennyfield, and describing the grand, clean houses of the wealthy people Patsy works for with details so well-written that even those who live in such splendor would recognize their luxury. The emotional arena of Patsy is vast, covering conflict from affairs to political corruption to gentrification to school bullying. Dennis-Benn is an expert at weaving political and social commentary into the scenes and lives of her characters so you feel more like a driveby observer than a student, yet her characters’ decisions and resolutions leave you feeling soft and passionate about inequality and immigration.

I wholeheartedly give Patsy five stars and am grateful for such a colorful, lively read during the cold, drab months of winter in Michigan. I can’t wait to read whatever Nicole Dennis-Benn publishes next!

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