What We've Been Reading in March

What We've Been Reading in March - The Willoughby Book Club

The Vanishing Half  by Brit Bennett

Vanishing Half Book Cover

I bought this book because one of my customers listed it as one of her favourites…and now it’s one of mine too!

A story about identical twins Stella & Desiree, growing up in a small Southern black community, who run away when they’re 16.

Years later Desiree is back, with her black daughter, living the life she escaped whilst Stella is secretly passing herself off as a white woman…to which her husband and daughter are none the wiser.

The story is very well-written and sensitively deals with an array of topics…race, prejudice, poverty and class, domestic abuse, trans-identity and sexuality too.

I love how the story, although slow-paced, weaves and unfolds as they grow up, follows the challenges they face & what happens when their daughters lives intersect. It switches between timelines and different family members which I felt added real depth to the story. My only grumble would be the length of the chapters.

This book intentionally took me weeks to finish, rather than my usual few days, because I just didn’t want it to end! A very eye-opening, thought-provoking and heart-breaking read. This will stay with me for a long time. I’ve just ordered her previous book The Mothers.



Take a Hint, Dani Brown  by Talia Hibbert

Dani and Zaf become fast friends after an ‘accident’ and a video of Zaf saving Dani goes viral. They then start a fake relationship to further along the publicity of Zaf’s sports charity for kids.

What could go wrong? Are they able to stay friends or is the tension too much? Throw in a bit of family drama, insecurity and growing careers, anything could happen!

This is a definite favourite for me, the characters are well written, three-dimensional, relatable, and are incredibly sweet with each other. A great read that I will probably come back to when I need something comforting to read!



New Animal  by Ella Baxter

New Animal book cover

New animal is dark, raw, and vividly unforgettable.

Baxter takes an unusual and tender look at mourning, by creating a story about a young woman and her experience of the ways in which sexuality and sorrow overlap.

Amelia, a young woman in her twenties is a makeup artist at her step-father’s mortuary. When her mother suddenly dies, her fragile family is shattered. Amelia flees to Tasmania and seeks solace in Tasmania’s BDSM scene. Baxter focuses on the interesting dynamic of Amelia’s character. Disembodied from herself, she spends her time battling with the disassociation from mind and her body, yet by the end of the novel we see that we have been served a gentle reminder that being raw, unfiltered and vulnerable allows us to feel.

I love how Baxter doesn’t shy away from the messiness of human emotions, an eye opening take on self-discovery, grief and sexuality. If you enjoy chaotic and dark books with witty characters, this one is for you!



Patsy  by Nicole Dennis-Benn

Patsy book cover

The story opens in 2008 with the titular character Patsy, a low-level government worker and single mother, living in a poor, working class suburb of Kingston named Pennyfield. She is ready to leave permanently for New York, with the hope that she will be reunited with her childhood best friend and first love, Cicely. Restricted by her evangelical, neglectful mother and a society that expects a certain brand of conformity, Patsy’s attempt to free herself of her own motherhood is both liberating and problematic. Her arrival in New York soon shatters any illusions of a better life, when she realises that life for an undocumented Jamaican woman is in some ways just as limiting as the one back home. Cicely is waiting for her, but not in the way Patsy is expecting.
She has left her daughter, Tru, with Tru’s father (the stoic policeman Roy) and his expanding family in a more middle-class area of the city. The sense of childhood confusion and rejection is so movingly told, with Tru trying to navigate her teenage years without a solid sense of identity or belonging. The way the author depicts Tru evolving relationship with her father and her step-family is bittersweet and realistic.

Set over the course of ten years, the lives of Patsy and Tru diverge and ultimately converge in several ways. There is a pulsing energy to every sentence of this book and I was compelled to read all 419 pages within just a few days. The sights, sounds and smells of New York are juxtaposed with those of suburban Jamaica, giving the book a life of its own.

Every character, no matter how minor, is made major by Dennis-Benn’s extraordinary wit and empathy. She can distil the essence of a character into a glance, a gesture, or a few low-key phrases. She is generous to all her complicated characters and completely rejects any two-dimensional portrayals. Where other writers might lazily resort to black and white depictions of good and bad, the story thrives in the grey areas. There is a lot of light in the book too. There is humour and warmth and Patsy is a complicated, messy character who you can’t help but love and root for. I loved the everyday, slice-of-life descriptions of Patsy in New York; her friendships, her romantic relationship, her work life, all experienced with the persistent awareness and knowledge that her daughter is growing up, without her, thousands of miles away. Tru, also, deserves as much love as Patsy, for her resilience and development without the presence of her mother.

This is a story of love, truth, acceptance and ultimately redemption and I would recommend it to anyone who craves authentic characters and beautiful writing.



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