Halsey Street

35995770Author: Naima Coster
Genre: Fiction
“Penelope Grand has scrapped her failed career as an artist in Pittsburgh and moved back to Brooklyn to keep an eye on her ailing father. She’s accepted that her future won’t be what she’d dreamed, but now, as gentrification has completely reshaped her old neighborhood, even her past is unrecognizable. Old haunts have been razed, and wealthy white strangers have replaced every familiar face in Bed-Stuy. Even her mother, Mirella, has abandoned the family to reclaim her roots in the Dominican Republic. That took courage. It’s also unforgivable.

When Penelope moves into the attic apartment of the affluent Harpers, she thinks she’s found a semblance of family—and maybe even love. But her world is upended again when she receives a postcard from Mirella asking for reconciliation. As old wounds are reopened, and secrets revealed, a journey across an ocean of sacrifice and self-discovery begins.

An engrossing debut, Halsey Street shifts between the perspectives of these two captivating, troubled women. Mirella has one last chance to win back the heart of the daughter she’d lost long before leaving New York, and for Penelope, it’s time to break free of the hold of the past and start navigating her own life.”

When I try to think of something that I loved about this book, I come up blank. Even when I try to think of something I liked about this, I still come up blank. I can at least say that I didn’t hate anything about this book. There was a lot of hype for this book when it was first released that sort of drew me in. A story about a young black artist coming back to Brooklyn to reconcile with her family after loads of family strife, written by a black woman. My hopes weren’t high but I assumed the book would leave me some sort of positive feelings towards it. It didn’t. It really didn’t. Not that my opinions on this book are purely negative, there’s was just more bad than good.

The thing that really bothered me about Halsey Street was that the focus of the book–the affect Penny’s fractured family has on her–was super muddled. There were backstories, but the backstories didn’t really support anything. For example, I have no idea why Mirella disliked her mother so much. She was bitter and critical of the woman the entire time and nothing in the book told me why. Or, did the fracturing of her parent’s marriage damage Penny badly enough that she turned out to be a self-destructive lush? Maybe it was her grandmother’s death? I couldn’t tell you. Everything that connected the characters together didn’t connect to anything concrete or substantial. I’m not saying shit like that needs a reason but I think the point of the weaving narrative was to give reasons for Penny’s and Mirella’s feelings and action. It didn’t help anything at all, however.

The writing kind of saved this book, I think? It was good, descriptive and had a good rhythm. But I can’t say much about it. It wasn’t good enough to overshadow the problems that plot and characters had. And I’m also not sure anything was resolved at the end of the book either.

One thing I found a little…odd was Penny’s revolving door of white lovers. They were varied but all white, despite her living in Brooklyn for a good part of the book. Now I’m not saying it’s wrong or anything just, she lived in Brooklyn. Couldn’t she fuck a local Dominican guy or an artsy Asian guy? Was the point to make her feel even more self-loathing because Penny sort of called all the guys she fucked racists in one way or another. If that was the point it wasn’t clear, just like the rest of the book. It wasn’t the biggest deal but it did get a little side-eye from me. That relationship with her landlord’s husband was boring and predictable. I don’t think it added much to the book, just gave Penny a convenient way to have more sex that did nothing for her.

Read this book if you want, but go in with any expectations other than high.


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