February Book Club: Next Year in Havana

A young woman wearing a sheer sleeved princess cut reddish pink dress, a pearl necklace and a heather in her hair on a turquoise couch. Her dress fades into the Havana city line.
Next Year in Havana, By Chanel Cleeton

The cover art for this month’s book is so beautiful, the fancy pink dress providing a stark contrast against the empty city line. The image provides a a lot of insight into the book, foreshadowing that I might have noticed if I had been paying enough attention.

Over all, I enjoyed Next Year in Havana, though I have to admit that I’m bias towards Elisa’s story and wanted more of it. To live with a character whose world is being turned upside-down. Where promises are being broken and hope is all that you have. My heart broke for Elisa when she learned the news that her fiancé didn’t make it back from the mountains, further still when Marisol learns that Elisa’s father had neglected to tell her that he had helped him out of prison.

As Marisol traveled to Cuba and began to piece together her grandmother’s (Elisa’s) story, I couldn’t help but long for the chapters that provided us with insight from Elisa’s perspective. The historical context was a romantic, or at least as romantic as a country on the brink of rebellion can be.

When Marisol fell in love, I couldn’t help feel a twang of irritation. On the one hand, it was clear that Chanel Cleeton (author) was trying to mirror the future with the past. On the other, I didn’t need Marisol to fall in love in order to experience what she experienced. Louis could have been someone who was just a friend (of either gender) and Marisol could have still felt a duty to help.

Then we learned the truth about Pablo being Marisol’s grandfather and the duel love stories held a little bit more power. Would Pablo had helped Marisol if Louis hadn’t been a love interest? Would he have been able to relate to someone else?

Thought less compelling, my heart broke a little bit when Louis realized that he had to leave Havana and when Marisol realized that he would be leaving a piece of his heart with him. Cleeton never told us whether or not this was a torn in their relationship, but the book ends with Hope.

“When Fidel dies, we’ll return.” A saying initially uttered by Marisol’s family, she finds herself saying it when speaking of Cuba with Louis. Despite Fidel’s death, the legacy he leaves behind will be in tact for who knows how long. There are many ways that the Castro’s are still controlling the government.

All in all, Next Year in Havana left me itching for more information, especially because the book takes place right before the “wet foot dry foot” policy was removed. Perhaps someday the limited information on Cuba will grow and I will find myself wandering its shores. Until then, I will do my best to satisfy myself with stories.

I’m not sure how The Bride Test made it onto my “to read list”. Perhaps it was the yellow cover that seemed inviting or the idea that there was a test you had to take before you could become a bride.

A young Vietnamize woman holding a pencil eraser to her mouth as she stares down at a piece of paper.
The Bride Test, by Helen Hoang

Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, he feels irritation when people move his things or contentment when ledgers balance down to the penny, but not big, important emotions—like grief. And love. He thinks he’s defective. His family knows better—that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. When he steadfastly avoids relationships, his mother takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride.

As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. When the opportunity arises to come to America and meet a potential husband, she can’t turn it down, thinking this could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn’t go as planned. Esme’s lessons in love seem to be working…but only on herself. She’s hopelessly smitten with a man who’s convinced he can never return her affection.

With Esme’s time in the United States dwindling, Khai is forced to understand he’s been wrong all along. And there’s more than one way to love.

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