Thank you to Simon and Schuster for the advanced review copy of One Year of Ugly in exchange for an honest review! #partner
In Caroline Mackenzie's debut novel, One Year of Ugly, we are introduced to the Palacios family who reside on the island of Trinidad. Yola Palacios' aunt Celia recently passed away and left in her wake an unresolved debt with a local criminal who goes by the name Ugly. Yola and her family must do as Ugly tells them, in order to pay off Aunt Celia's debt, which involves housing illegal immigrants from Venezuela and eventually working as free labor at Ugly's exclusive strip club, called the Pink Pie. Yola ends up finding a mutual attraction with Ugly's "muscle" Roman and falls hard. While Yola and her family work off Aunt Celia's debts without risking their lives, Yola discover's Aunt Celia's memoir script and starts learning who her aunt was, while also finding her place in the world.
I went into this book with little knowledge of Trinidad and the influx of Venezuela immigrants. While reading, I kept a few questions in the back of my mind:
Is this an accurate depiction of the turmoil Venezuelan immigrants are facing?
Is this story tone deaf to what they are experiencing?
What do own voices book reviews think of this story and does it accurately portray these cultures in a non-offensive way?
The author's note really helped me get a well-rounded understanding of what type of research Caroline Mackenzie put into this story. While it covers heavy topics in a lighthearted manner, she put the work in to interview Venezuelan immigrants to hear their stories and experiences, as well as what she observed as a native Trini. I appreciate this author's note because it helped me understand the accuracy of the depiction of native Trini's disdain for Venezuelan immigrants. The prejudice and discrimination of Venezuelans was evident in the story, which troubled me, but now makes more sense knowing what Mackenzie observed.
Mackenzie takes the issues of corrupt government, illegal immigrants, criminal enterprises, and illegal activity and covers them with a "glass half full" mentality. You can't help but root for Yola and her family and admire their determination and love for one another. While at times, the story lagged a bit and what seemed to start as a romance novel, turned into something straight out of Narcos, I was glued to this book and dying to know how the Palacio family faired in the end. Mackenzie does a brilliant job of putting a comical spin on intense and dangerous situations that can only be described as dark humor.
For a debut novel, Mackenzie does a bang up job with One Year of Ugly. This one has been picked up by Netflix for a limited series and I think it will be equally as entertaining as the book. Her exuberant writing laced with profanity had me cracking up during stressful times. This family drama is a standout new release in 2020. As long as you don't mind a few (or more than a few) F-bombs and enjoy dark humor, One Year of Ugly by Caroline Mackenzie is a perfect summer read.
While this is just my opinion and review of this book, I encourage you to seek out own voices reviews! Check out my Instagram page for a chance to win an ARC of One Year of Ugly!