I love when a debut knocks it out of the park. Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez comes in hot, so be ready. Olga is a high-profile wedding planner in New York City. She has a lot going on when it comes to her job and public image, as well as grappling with her emotions around her absent mom, her Puerto Rican roots amid the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, all while struggling with her life purpose. Toss in her love life and Congressman brother, I'd say Olga has her hands full.
This book is both a love letter to Brooklyn, as well as an anthem for Puerto Rico and a crusade to crush misogyny, corrupt politics, and gentrification. The city of Brooklyn, as well as the island of Puerto Rico, were almost full-blown characters themselves. The sense of place was vivid and jumped off the page.
Olga has also been added to my list of characters I wish I could meet in real life. Brains and beauty with zero filter, she is truly goals. Not only is she strong and assertive, but there is also a vulnerability to her that came through the text. Olga has struggled with her feelings regarding her mother, who abandoned her and her brother, Prieto, when she was a kid. Her mother has been on a quest for social justice, joining extremist groups set on liberating Puerto Rico. She left her children for what she viewed as her life's purpose but leaving them left a hole in their hearts that has ached into adulthood. As Olga navigates life, she struggles with her love life and finds herself entangled in a relationship that affects not only her business, but also her love for Puerto Rico amid a natural disaster that devastates the island.
I was a little unsure during the first half of where this book was going because the author throws so much at you, but the second half tied everything together. There are some content warnings, including a sexual assault that I did not anticipate. I ended up really enjoying Olga Dies Dreaming. After finishing, I found myself researching Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria, and PROMESA. I love when a book has well developed characters and a unique plot line such as this that educated me and left me curious. Olga Dies Dreaming has substance, and the writing is witty, sharp and powerful. For a debut novel, this one was a winner.
"You must remember, mijo, even people who were once your sails can become your anchors."
"It's about not chasing an external ideal, not trying to fit someone else's vision for you and instead building with the community of people who simply accept you as you are."