Summary: Trinidad. Sixteen-year-old Audre is despondent, having just found out she’s going to be sent to live in America with her father because her strictly religious mother caught her with her secret girlfriend, the pastor’s daughter. Audre’s grandmother Queenie (a former dancer who drives a white convertible Cadillac and who has a few secrets of her own) tries to reassure her granddaughter that she won’t lose her roots, not even in some place called Minneapolis. “America have dey spirits too, believe me,” she tells Audre.
Minneapolis. Sixteen-year-old Mabel is lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling and trying to figure out why she feels the way she feels–about her ex Terrell, about her girl Jada and that moment they had in the woods, and about the vague feeling of illness that’s plagued her all summer. Mabel’s reverie is cut short when her father announces that his best friend and his just-arrived-from-Trinidad daughter are coming for dinner.
Mabel quickly falls hard for Audre and is determined to take care of her as she tries to navigate an American high school. But their romance takes a turn when test results reveal exactly why Mabel has been feeling low-key sick all summer and suddenly it’s Audre who is caring for Mabel as she faces a deeply uncertain future.
Thoughts and Themes: I listened to this book on audio as I followed along with it through the physical book. I have found this is a better way for me to read and be able to keep up with everything.
I love that you get a scene that is packed with emotions right from the start of the book. I thought that Audre’s feelings as she is taken from Neri and forced to move to the U.S. were raw and real. I think that each scene that is included in this book that is meant to be emotional is realistic and you feel the characters emotions along with them. There is never a moment in which I question how Audre or Mabel are feeling as the author is transparent with the reader regarding their feelings.
I think it was impactful that this book included the complexity of having a relationship with God and being queer. It wasn’t until I started picking up queer books written by people of color that I started seeing the intersection of religion and queerness come into play. I always felt that it was a large piece that was missing in things that I read and I felt that queer people couldn’t have a relationship with God. I always felt that we had to choose one or the other so seeing characters who manage to hold both a religious identity and a queer identity really speaks to me and helps me re-examine my relationship with religion.
Something else that this book touches upon is health and what it means for a high school student to have poor health. I also thought that it was important to include that the doctors didn’t have a definitive answer to what was happening to Mabel. I thought that was a good way to show the disparity in the medical community when it comes to treating Black patients and how often times they are overlooked. I thought that the questioning of this illness and Audre’s thoughts on medicine are included and her distrust of the medical system in the U.S. I thought this was another good way to show the reasoning behind why Black people and other people of color have this distrust of the medical system and where it stems from.
Something else that I thought it was important to see was the way Mabel’s poor health affects those around her and see her perspective on this illness that is killing her. I thought it was important that Mabel asks for her space as she comes to terms with her illness and that her friends respect her boundaries in this time.
I like how you get an idea of what Trinidad is like and how you get a comparison of that country and the United States. I like how you also get commentary about how the schooling is very different. I also really enjoyed the conversation that Audre has with her friends about queer people back in Trinidad and how different it is to be queer back at her home and the U.S.
Characters: At the start of the book you get slowly introduced to Audre and the people who are important to her. I like how you see the relationships that she has with other people around her. I love that they show her close relationship with her grandmother, Queenie, and how accepting her grandmother is of her relationship with her girlfriend.
You also begin to get an idea of who Mabel is right from the start as well. I love that they include her questioning her sexuality through her relationship with a previous boyfriend. As you meet Mabel, her friends, and family you begin to understand her more and see why her thought process is the way it is.
Writing Style and Narrator: This book goes back and forth between Audre and Mabel’s perspectives. What I enjoy about this back and forth between the two characters is that it isn’t one chapter for Audre and then one for Mabel. It reads more as one moment for Audre and then one for Mabel, and sometimes those moments span over one chapter and sometimes it takes more.
Something else that I found interesting was that this book includes pieces of poetry from each of the different zodiac signs as it transitions between different portions of the book. I really enjoy all of the astrology references that are included through each of the characters.
I also liked how over halfway through the book as Mabel begins reading Afua’s book, the author included pieces of that book. I also enjoy how there’s parts of other books or poetry included as Audre does assignments in school.
You can get this book at Eso Won Books or look for it at your local library.