Review: Yerba Buena by Nina LaCour

  • Title: Yerba Buena
  • Author: Nina LaCour
  • Genre: literary fiction
  • Format read: physical arc
  • Publisher: Flatiron books
  • Pub Date: May 31, 2022
  • Content warnings: sexual assault (adult and minor), death, parental death, depictions of grief, cheating, divorce, drugs and overdosing, alcoholism and addiction, murder, colorism
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

Thank you to Flatiron books for providing me with an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review

When Sara Foster runs away from home at sixteen, she leaves behind not only the losses that have shattered her world but the girl she once was, capable of trust and intimacy. Years later, in Los Angeles, she is a sought-after bartender, renowned as much for her brilliant cocktails as for the mystery that clings to her. Across the city, Emilie Dubois is in a holding pattern. In her seventh year and fifth major as an undergraduate, she yearns for the beauty and community her Creole grandparents cultivated but is unable to commit. On a whim, she takes a job arranging flowers at the glamorous restaurant Yerba Buena and embarks on an affair with the married owner.

When Sara catches sight of Emilie one morning at Yerba Buena, their connection is immediate. But the damage both women carry, and the choices they have made, pulls them apart again and again. When Sara’s old life catches up to her, upending everything she thought she wanted just as Emilie has finally gained her own sense of purpose, they must decide if their love is more powerful than their pasts.

At once exquisite and expansive, astonishing in its humanity and heart, Yerba Buena is a love story for our time and a propulsive journey through the lives of two women finding their way in the world.

An image of blue flowers on a white background.

I have absolutely loved every book by Nina LaCour that I have ever read. As such, her adult debut, Yerba Buena, was one of my most anticipated releases of 2022. Being an adult novel, this book is certainly different from LaCour’s young adult books. However, I think those who love the prose and themes of her previous novels will definitely enjoy this one. And those who maybe have never read LaCour but who are literary fiction fans will find a new author to follow.

Yerba Buena follows two women, Emilie and Sara, as their lives interweave with each other and each struggles to heal and grow from their own trauma and struggles. Still in undergrad after seven years, Emilie struggles to find meaning in her life and work herself out of the rut she is in. In an attempt to bring passion into her life, she begins a new job at a flower shop, only to find herself arranging florals for Yerba Buena, a restaurant her family loves, and soon in an affair with the handsome owner. But she still feels she cannot win her parents’ approval, and little brings her joy. Meanwhile, Sara is a successful bartender but is still recovering from the events of her childhood – the death of her first girlfriend which was followed by years of struggles.

Like many of LaCour’s other works, Yerba Buena is about grief and loneliness and longing. But it’s also about healing and hope. It is about finding the small beauties in life that sustain you through the difficult moments, and daring to take a chance on yourself. LaCour crafts beautiful characters, but the strongest part of the novel is her achingly gorgeous prose. She masterfully builds and relieves tension, taking the reader through the emotions of the characters, but in the end always brings them back with a soft landing.

I don’t think this is going to be a book for everyone. It can be quite heavy, there is not a lot of plot, and the slow, syrupy writing is not going to be something everyone enjoys. However, the thing that I love most about Yerba Buena is that it centers healing. So much literary fiction is about trauma being inflicted and people breaking, but LaCour provides the reader with the healing part of the process as well. We get to watch the characters heal, learn, and grow. We are allowed some relief and a breath of fresh air. Because life may be difficult, but it isn’t all misery. There is beauty and love in the little things, like a beautiful flower arrangement or a perfectly mixed cocktail.

Overall, I just think that Yerba Buena is a beautiful story and I loved the experience of reading it. Nina LaCour is a writer who continues to amaze me with her works, and I can definitely recommend this one. If you like sad girl books, beautiful prose, or literary fiction about imperfect people, then you should definitely add it to your tbr.

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