Patsy desires to escape the beautiful but poor Jamaican town that she grew up in to start a new life in New York. She hopes to be reunited with Cicely, her oldest friend and rekindle their love. The only problem is she has to leave behind her five-year-old daughter, Tru, who is then taken in and raised by her father and his family.
This novel explores Tru’s journey as she tries to identify who she is and Patsy’s life as an undocumented migrant in a hostile city.
One of my reading goals this year was to read more books by Caribbean authors.
So, it only made sense that I tried Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn.
And, I was so completely and utterly blown away by it.
The authenticity of this novel was astounding. It literally took my breath away. The patois. The culture. I loved this book with my whole heart and chest because of the raw and honest reflection of Jamaica.
Nicole Dennis-Benn didn’t try to make it palatable. She didn’t try to adapt her voice. It was so unique and refreshing that this is exactly what I mean by representation.
This is literally an embodiment of everything I’ve been shouting about.
A physical representation of why The Black Book Blog started.
The passionate and authentic portrayal of freedom and motherhood resonated with me.
Patsy simply couldn’t catch a break. It was sad to watch. She made some very questionable choices that made me want to scream at her. But, I couldn’t knock her too much because she followed her heart in every decision she made. And yes, a lot of people got hurt around her.
It only emphasised that as much as we want and try to, at some point, our actions may hurt someone around us.
Regardless, there’s so many good issues being discussed in this book, including the harsh reality of ‘the American dream’.
The American Dream – the ideal by which equality of opportunity is available to any American, allowing the highest aspirations and goals to be achieved.
Patsy was quite clearly a representation that this was entirely false. But I guess the issue was that she was undocumented migrant. She wasn’t ‘technically’ American. It made me question why America, and even the UK, are portrayed as some sort of fantasy land with promises of higher-paying jobs and riches. The stark reality is that it is not as simple as it’s made out to be. Then again, riches weren’t the real reason Patsy decided to move. I didn’t even think it was her love for Cicely.
She was seeking freedom more than anything else.
The freedom to make her own choices in life without worrying about anyone else. The knowledge that her life was entirely hers to live. It was heart-breaking that Patsy was met with a rude awakening.
And this is where the theme of motherhood was so prominent and tied in so closely with freedom. Every choice Patsy made, regardless of the distance between her and Tru, either indirectly or directly affected her daughter. It only emphasised that being a mother is a job for life. There’s no breaks. There’s no choice to simply focus on yourself and believe you’re not hurting your child with your choices.
Tru really struggled. Nicole Dennis-Benn really explored mental health and the detrimental effect of labels in depth. My heart constantly broke for Tru, who was so young but was fighting the labels placed upon her by society. I loved that she never gave up who she was. She literally stayed true to herself. Even if it did become too much in the end.
Most importantly, this novel emphasised the peace that comes with second chances. This was the main message behind the novel. Being completely and utterly yourself, unapologetically was the second message. Patsy was a true reflection of never giving up on your dreams. The ending left me hopeful for both her and Tru.
In Patsy, and in the other migrants she encountered in New York, I heard the voices of so many that had migrated to Western countries from Jamaica for the hopes of a better life. And in Tru, I heard the voices of the family members that were left behind.
Nicole Dennis-Benn wrote a novel that will span generations. A true perfect reflection of Jamaican culture. I will most definitely be reading ‘Here Comes the Sun’ soon.
I can’t wait to read more by her.
Also by Nicole Dennis-Benn: