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Patsy: A Novel (Hardcover)
Best Books of 2019: Washington Post • O, The Oprah Magazine • Time • NPR • People • Buzzfeed
A TODAY Show #ReadWithJenna Book Club Selection
A Washington Post Lily Lit Club Selection
New York Times Book Review • Editors’ Choice Selection
Apple Books • Best Books of the Month
Kirkus Reviews • Most Memorable Fictional Families of 2019
Longlisted • Aspen Words Literary Prize
Longlisted • The Morning News Tournament of Books
A Rumpus Book Club Selection
A beautifully layered portrait of motherhood, immigration, and the sacrifices we make in the name of love from award-winning novelist Nicole Dennis-Benn.
When Patsy gets her long-coveted visa to America, it comes after years of yearning to leave Pennyfield, the beautiful but impoverished Jamaican town where she was raised. More than anything, Patsy wishes to be reunited with her oldest friend, Cicely, whose letters arrive from New York steeped in the promise of a happier life and the possible rekindling of their young love. But Patsy’s plans don’t include her overzealous, evangelical mother—or even her five-year-old daughter, Tru.
Beating with the pulse of a long-witheld confession, Patsy gives voice to a woman who looks to America for the opportunity to choose herself first—not to give a better life to her family back home. Patsy leaves Tru behind in a defiant act of self-preservation, hoping for a new start where she can be, and love, whomever she wants. But when Patsy arrives in Brooklyn, America is not as Cicely’s treasured letters described; to survive as an undocumented immigrant, she is forced to work as a bathroom attendant and nanny. Meanwhile, Tru builds a faltering relationship with her father back in Jamaica, grappling with her own questions of identity and sexuality, and trying desperately to empathize with her mother’s decision.
Expertly evoking the jittery streets of New York and the languid rhythms of Jamaica, Patsy weaves between the lives of Patsy and Tru in vignettes spanning more than a decade as mother and daughter ultimately find a way back to one another.
As with her masterful debut, Here Comes the Sun, Nicole Dennis-Benn once again charts the geography of a hidden world—that of a paradise lost, swirling with the echoes of lilting patois, in which one woman fights to discover her sense of self in a world that tries to define her. Passionate, moving, and fiercely urgent, Patsy is a prismatic depiction of immigration and womanhood, and the lasting threads of love stretching across years and oceans.
One of the "Most Anticipated Books of the Summer": Entertainment Weekly • Vogue • Time • Washington Post • Buzzfeed • Vulture • O, the Oprah Magazine • Vanity Fair • Elle • Real Simple • NYLON • New York Post • Newsday • Southern Living
About the Author
Nicole Dennis-Benn is the author of Here Comes the Sun, a New York Times Notable Book and winner of the Lambda Literary Award. Born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, she teaches at Princeton and lives with her wife in Brooklyn, New York.
It’s a story about resilience.... Patsy is a book that will open a lot of minds. I think particularly now, it’s critical that we open our minds to the way others live.... At the end this is a beautiful story of love.
— Jenna Bush Hager, NBC's TODAY #ReadWithJenna Book Club Selection
Nicole Dennis-Benn carefully unspools the stories behind each wound over the long course of this richly imagined novel... [she] beautifully illustrates how the characters are connected to one another by love, desire and violence, and how they bear those histories permanently, both within and on their bodies. [Patsy] continually and subtly defies predictability as it tells a vital and remarkable life story.... I never knew what turn the story would take next, how the past would reassert itself, what alliances and rifts would form, where love would fail and where it would unexpectedly appear. Again and again, Patsy surprises and illuminates.
— Chelsey Johnson
Sumptuous... Dennis-Benn ingeniously humanizes and changes up the typical immigrant saga... The result is a knowing, at times painfully funny novel about the disorienting relationship between selfhood and sacrifice.
Stunning…. Patsy fills a literary void with compassion, complexity and tenderness.
— Joshunda Sanders
Admirers of Here Comes the Sun have waited three years for Dennis-Benn's followup, and anyone who was enchanted by her gorgeous writing are in for a happy surprise: Patsy isn't just as good as its predecessor, it's somehow even better.... Dennis-Benn isn't just a compassionate writer, she's also a courageous one, unafraid to address topics that too often go ignored. And in Patsy and Tru, she's managed to create two unforgettable characters who function as real people and not literary archetypes. Dennis-Benn is quickly becoming an indispensable novelist, and Patsy is a brave, brilliant triumph of a book.
— Michael Schaub
Nicole Dennis-Benn’s sophomore novel, Patsy, methodically and unapologetically engages with choices women do and should be allowed to make, and as with her last novel, Here Comes the Sun, does so with nuance and grace.... Patsy is a deeply queer, sensitive and vividly written novel about a woman’s right to want and a child’s right to carve her own path.
— Ilana Masad
Dennis-Benn writes about the immigrant experience with abiding, bone-deep empathy—swinging between standard English and patois the same way that Patsy and her daughter navigate their own need to code-switch as the years pass. Estranged from one another and bound to a world that tends to treat black womanhood and queer sexuality as invisible at best, their separate but intertwined stories wend through hurt and hope and inalienable dreams; not just for a better life, but a truly honest one.
— Leah Greenblatt
Brilliant… [Dennis-Benn] writes with keen awareness of what others experience living undocumented in America—and the compromises that women make in order to prioritize themselves.
Dennis-Benn gives her characters the dose of happiness and self-assurance that many stories about social ills refuse women like them. She does that without facilely wishing away the big issues—racism, homophobia, gender, classism—that her novel tackles. Patsy is a portrait of black queer women grasping for self-determination, and a challenge to the conventions of what is expected of good mothers and good women and good immigrants.... In writing beautifully about that unending struggle, Dennis-Benn finds a way to extend to black girls and women some of the love that the world may never offer.
— Adrienne Green
While Patsy highlights the profound, and often unseen, sacrifices made in immigrants’ lives in America, it also emphasizes the struggles of those who are LGBTQIA+.... In the end, Dennis-Benn touches upon the question of whether or not America is even still the promised land for all identities seeking freedom from persecution.
— C.E. Miller
Patsy is a probing novel about freedom, examining one woman's shifting conception of it, and how people weigh what they are willing to trade for liberty.... The immigrant novel has a rich tradition in American literature.... Patsy adds to that lineage with its engrossing portrait of a complicated woman who struggles against crushing societal forces in her quest—not to sacrifice her life for future generations—but to finally unfurl her true self.
— Jenny Shank
Astonishing.... Dennis-Benn’s writing is ravishing, full of the musical rhythm of Jamaican dialect, sprinkled like hot spices throughout a narrative that is colorful, heartbreakingly sad and bristling with life.
— Caroline Leavitt
[A] provocative, muscular book. Dennis-Benn takes care with characters, building intricate relationships, and writes in exquisite prose that brings to life Pennyfield, the Jamaican neighborhood Patsy is from, and the Caribbean diaspora in New York.... Draws the complexity of experiencing one’s sexuality, and the varying ways sexuality is understood in the larger community.
— Alexia Arthurs
Although she's lovingly drawn by Dennis-Benn, Patsy has done the single most-damning thing a mother can do in our society: She has abandoned her child. It's a marker of Dennis-Benn's masterful prowess at characterization and her elegant, nuanced writing that the people here—even when they're flawed or unlikable—inspire sympathy and respect. Dennis-Benn has written a profound book about sexuality, gender, race, and immigration that speaks to the contemporary moment through the figure of a woman alive with passion and regret.
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Dennis-Benn (Here Comes the Sun, 2016) builds big worlds inside and outside her touchable characters, writing through their knotty love in all its failures and mercies in this empathetic intergenerational epic of womanhood and inheritance.
— Annie Bostrom, Booklist (starred review)
Redemptive parallel stories examine themes of identity, belonging, and self-fulfillment in Dennis-Benn’s (Here Comes the Sun) latest... Sharon Gordon beautifully captures the lilt of the many Jamaican voices as well as conveying the ambiguity of Patsy and Tru’s thoughts and feelings. This story may be better listened to than read. Highly recommended.
— Judy Murray, Library Journal (Audiobook, Starred)
A Jamaican woman abandons her daughter for a chance to reunite with her childhood friend turned lover in this wrenching second novel from Dennis-Benn (Here Comes the Sun).... An immersive study in unintended consequences…. This is a marvelous novel.
— Publishers Weekly
A stunningly powerful inter-generational novel about the price—the ransom really— women must pay to choose themselves, their lives, their value, their humanity. Frank, funny, salty, heartbreaking, full of love, Dennis-Benn is a map-maker to those places in the heart held so closely, the holder may not know even they’re there.
— Alexander Chee, author of How to Write an Autobiographical Novel
Beautiful, shattering, and deeply affecting. Patsy’s story ultimately makes for a novel that is destined to endure.
— Chigozie Obioma, author of The Fishermen
Nicole Dennis-Benn is an exquisite writer who paints scenes with words so vivid you might as well be walking through it as a character, not a reader. In Patsy, she addresses motherhood, sexuality, racism, and colorism; turning her prodigious talents to the timely story of an undocumented immigrant straddling two worlds while learning that love isn’t a choice, but the beat in one’s blood.
— Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling author of A Spark of Light and Small Great Things
One of my favourite novels of 2017 was easily Nicole Dennis-Benn’s first novel, Here Comes the Sun, and when her second, Patsy, was announced, I almost lost my mind. The richness of Dennis-Benn’s writing is taken to another level in Patsy, the story of a Jamaican woman working towards her own version of the American dream.... Dennis-Benn explores in such a textured, taut way what in love is gained, and what, or who, is left behind.... Bliss.
— Candice Carty-Williams, author of Queenie: A Novel
A novel that splits at the seams with yearning, elegantly written and deeply felt. Dennis-Benn leads the reader through Patsy's life with empathy and grace.
— Esme Weijun Wang, author of The Collected Schizophrenias
An aching meditation on motherhood, sacrifice, and what it means to look truth in the face in order to fully become oneself. A beautiful book, as heartbreaking as it is restorative.
— Cristina Henriquez, author of The Book of Unknown Americans