Review: Yerba Buena by Nina LaCour

Rating: 4 out of 5.

It’s been a while since I’ve written a review where I give it two ratings. One is based on objective criteria, completely bereft of my own opinion, and the other is based solely on my own enjoyment. That all being said, I’d like to review Yerba Buena by Nina LaCour — my May Book of the Month selection. 

Yerba Buena is described as a story of two women, whose difficult lives lead them to each other. It’s a story of overcoming trauma and learning to trust. We meet Sara Foster, who ran away from home at sixteen after losing her best friend and lover. We also meet Emilie Dubois whose childhood was fraught with the pain of having a sister gridlocked in addiction. Through a series of fortuitous circumstances, they find themselves tethered together by a common thread: Yerba Buena. First, an herb. Next, a restaurant.

This book is a love note to misfortune and the doors that open from it. It’s a story, just as much about second chances as it is about what broke to lead them there. You’re ensconced in a world of disappointment, and utterly real humanity. It isn’t often pretty — in fact, it seldom is — but it creates a sort of bittersweet atmosphere that leaves the reader wistful, and aching. 

LaCour has a gorgeous writing style that pulls the reader in. Her descriptive ability is not only thought-provoking but heartrending. She created two characters who were utterly diametrically opposed, but somehow complementary (and at times, repellant). Further, they felt real. Messy, and maddening in the same way a heroine going into a dark basement alone is. You just want to make her turn back and get to safety. Of course, she doesn’t. 

This story doesn’t come with any obvious content/trigger warnings, though, I wish it would have. I don’t know that I would have picked this book up if I knew some of these themes were going to be featured. I feel it’s important to mention that this story includes: death of a minor, substance abuse/addiction, sexual assault of a minor/prostitution as a minor, and incarcerated parent.

My only gripe (beyond the lack of a content/trigger warning), is the chapter length. This is, entirely, a personal preference, but as someone who likes to stop at the end of a chapter, it made committing to reading a bit difficult (I often read a chapter between work emails, during my lunch, while waiting for laundry to dry, etc.). I was admittedly rather startled to realize that some chapters went on for forty pages or longer. Yerba Buena is broken up by paragraph breaks to note different scenes, which will likely work for some readers. Unfortunately, for me and how I prefer to break up my reading, it wasn’t conducive to the overall experience.

This is a book to read if you’re looking to feel something. I won’t say that it’s a feel-good piece, because… well, it’s not. It’s meant to tug at the heartstrings and it does it remarkably well. 

As far as my own personal synopsis: I didn’t particularly enjoy reading this book, which in and of itself, was a tragedy because I did really love the writing style. I felt a smidge misled by the description — I felt like we would have more time with the lead characters actually knowing each other, but the bulk of the story was outlining the trauma that led to them meeting. And then, the greater part of their story together was spent apart. 

I mentioned earlier in this review that the chapter length was a bit intense. The scenes themselves were short enough to not feel like drudgery, but I did find myself looking at the clock/counting down the pages until the end of the chapter far more than I care to admit.

This is not a romance novel, as much as it is women’s fiction (if you haven’t gleaned that from the description), so there’s no real “happily ever after.” And after everything, I couldn’t help but hope for one. For me, this book would have been graded at three stars, but that’s just my personal feelings on this book! I don’t know that I would be tempted to pick up another piece by Nina LaCour based on my own preferences. But, all that being said, she does write beautifully, and just because this story/this version of storytelling isn’t my favorite doesn’t mean that you won’t love it! 

I encourage you to read it for yourself! And if you do, I would love to know what you think!

You can find Nina LaCour on: Goodreads, Instagram, Twitter, and Website.

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