I read this one back in July for a bookstore’s book club because the author was going to visit for the discussion. I’d heard such great things about Dennis-Benn’s first novel, Here Comes the Sun, which I own but haven’t read, that I was excited to get stuck in this one.
The excitement and anticipation paid off. Not only did I love the story and could strongly relate to certain parts, I also loved Dennis-Benn’s writing and was easily swept up in the story. To top off the experience, I attended the book club discussion and was glad that I completed the novel in time for it because I could then understand the context of the questions asked as well as the responses given. Patsy is one of my best reading experiences of the year.
Contemporary literary fiction
Patsy is a young woman living in Jamaica. She is a single mom raising her daughter and caring for her God-fearing mother who refuses to get a job to help support their small family. Patsy works in accounting and is great with numbers, but she barely makes enough to cover the bills, buy food for her home, and send her daughter, Tru, to school.
However Patsy dreams of leaving Jamaica behind to be with her best friend, Cicely, in the U.S. She receives letters from Cicely, who lives in New York City, about how much easier life is in the states. So when Patsy FINALLY gets a visa, she wastes no time buying a ticket to New York, leaving her daughter behind to be raised a father she barely knows.
In New York, Patsy gets a harsh surprise when she learns that life in the U.S. may not be as Cicely describes. Meanwhile back in Jamaica, Tru struggles to accept her mother’s abandonment while yearning to hear from her again. (Goodreads)
I’ve been reading so much fantasy these past few years that it was refreshing to read about my own culture and see certain beliefs, superstitions, and mannerisms that my family share reflected in this novel. I was blown away to see the experiences and struggles friends and family have endured as immigrants portrayed so well. This authenticity and openness about the experiences of Jamaicans in Jamaica and abroad — in the U.S. — made Patsy a great read for me.
From the struggle to get a visa to the challenge of starting a new life in an unknown land and securing a job without papers and, thus, lack of security, this story rang true about immigrant experiences in the U.S. But what I loved the most is that we readers are also privy to the experiences of those left behind by the person who immigrated. To be more exact, the experiences of the child left behind. This stuck out to me because it’s something I experienced. Although I did not experience the abandonment as sharply and intensely as Tru does in the story, I could relate to the yearning she had for her mother. The need to hear her mother’s voice, the anticipation of a phone call from a parent living in the U.S., and the excitement when told that the call has come through. Because of all this, I could understand Tru’s deep disappointment when no other calls followed the one she missed.
Tru’s story is heart wrenching and Patsy’s is sad too despite the hopeful end. Dennis-Benn does such a great job with these characters that they felt real to me. Her writing style isn’t overly descriptive, but it drew me into the settings. The passages set in Jamaica made me feel as if I was back on the island feeling the bright sunshine kissing my check, and the passages set in New York brought me back to the busyness and closeness of the city. So for me, Patsy was a bit of an atmospheric read.
But what I loved most about Patsy are the themes Dennis-Benn explores. The most prominent one, of course, is motherhood, which Patsy struggles with because she does not love her daughter as a mother is expected to, which leads to her abandoning her daughter and later being weighed down by guilt. Those themes — motherhood and abandonment — are often paired throughout the story as other characters struggle with their roles as mother.
Despite the sadness and hardships the main characters endure, there are some light moments in the book. It does not feel like a heavy read. I also like that the romances are positive because I was worried that the story would take a dark turn when Tru began exploring her sexuality, and from the hints in Patsy’s flashbacks, it seemed that there was some negative altercation when she was discovered with another woman.
Patsy was not what I expected it to be. Despite the characters’ struggles, it did not feel like a heavy read, and it ended on a positive note. I really enjoyed it.
A well-written story that’s partly set in Jamaica and New York City. It’s well worth the read, and I highly recommend it.