Yerba Buena, by Nina LaCour

From GoodReads: When Sara Foster runs away from home at sixteen, she leaves behind not only the losses that have shattered her world but the girl she once was, capable of trust and intimacy. Years later, in Los Angeles, she is a sought-after bartender, renowned as much for her brilliant cocktails as for the mystery that clings to her. Across the city, Emilie Dubois is in a holding pattern. In her seventh year and fifth major as an undergraduate, she yearns for the beauty and community her Creole grandparents cultivated but is unable to commit. On a whim, she takes a job arranging flowers at the glamorous restaurant Yerba Buena and embarks on an affair with the married owner.

When Sara catches sight of Emilie one morning at Yerba Buena, their connection is immediate. But the damage both women carry, and the choices they have made, pulls them apart again and again. When Sara’s old life catches up to her, upending everything she thought she wanted just as Emilie has finally gained her own sense of purpose, they must decide if their love is more powerful than their pasts.

I’ve loved LaCour’s writing in the past, and I was interested to see what she could do with her adult debut. In many ways, she succeeded. This is a combination slice-of-life, second coming of age, and love story. Many of the elements were beautiful, and the really horrifically ugly ones weren’t at all glossed over. (Note: Please check trigger warnings posted at the bottom of this review.) Both Sara and Emilie have led different kinds of tough lives, ones riddled with drugs, personal loss, and family troubles. As far as love goes, things were never going to be easy for these two women, who come from very different backgrounds socially, ethnically, and situationally. And LaCour doesn’t make it easy. She doesn’t make it guaranteed, either. I liked that a lot.

The only part of the book that felt off to me was that there was a lot of meandering that didn’t seem to lead anywhere. Long periods of time would pass between events, and life would happen, but nothing would really happen. You know, as life is like in reality. But in fiction, if you’re going to describe the non-events that are part of time passing, it feels like they need to be moving the story along, not just in there for no reason. And a lot of the meandering, especially after Sara and Emilie met, felt like it could have been edited out of the book without detriment. Part of it, I’m sure, was to get across that feel of Emilie’s pointless wandering before she reaches a better idea of what she wants and finds inner purpose, but even that kind of pointless wandering needs to move the story forward, and instead, those sections felt a bit stagnated.

Still, I appreciated that LaCour didn’t take this down the road that I’ve seen other books – especially by male authors – that have the “meet and get pulled apart many times” trope and use the bits in between to debase the characters when they’re apart. I do love that Sara and Emilie have these complicated and traumatic pasts, and that they are both trying to deal with them, even if they must be pushed into doing so. It was a thoughtfully written book with beautiful prose, and other than a few sections that felt like they didn’t really need to be there, I thoroughly loved Yerba Buena.

TW: addiction, drug use, death of loved ones, prostitution and statutory rape

About Amanda

Agender empty-nester filling my time with cats, books, fitness, and photography. She/they.
This entry was posted in 2022, Adult, Prose and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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