*I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. There are affiliate links throughout.
I did a cursory search of Trinidadian authors to confirm what I suspected: One Year of Ugly is the first book I’ve read by a native Trinidadian, and it is not technically an #ownvoices book. I didn’t pick the best book to represent a country, but so be it. I’ll start with my brief synopsis of the book because, as of right now, my chief complaint is with the marketing. In short, the marketing ruined this book for me.
After Yola Palacio and her family flee Venezuela for Trinidad, she thinks the worst is over. Sure, she and her family are now unauthorized immigrants, but they have a new life and can make it work. That is until Aunt Celia dies and Ugly, the crime boss Aunt Celia secretly owes, comes to collect. Now the Palacio family is active, if unwilling, participants in a crime ring and Yola, well, she can’t stay away from Román, Ugly’s right-hand man.
One Year of Ugly is promoted as a dark romantic comedy. If you are a fan of dark themes like I am, please scrub dark from your expectations. Lemony Snicket is darker than One Year of Ugly. The only reason this book is dark is that we root for unauthorized immigrants and an illicit romance. The book is funny throughout, with Mackenzie using the sardonic voices of Yola and her beloved deceased aunt to make safe commentary on Venezuelan politics.
Publishers describe Mackenzie as a mix of Junot Díaz and Maria Semple but, again, don’t believe the hype. I was an enormous fan of Junot Díaz before the allegations, and the comparison doesn’t hold up to review. Like Semple, Mackenzie is a beach read. Anyone who reads One Year of Ugly expecting more than Where Did You Go, Bernadette will be disappointed. I would not have been able to finish this book if I held to the expectation that I would read a woman’s answer to The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
Did I like it? I gave it three stars, and if you’ve been here a while, you know that is nothing new for me. I rarely give books more than three stars, and I stand by my unmerciful rating system! If I give every book is 4 and 5 stars, there are no great books. If everything is fantastic, nothing is fantastic.
If you like romantic comedies, you will like this book.
If you loathe discussions of controversial politics, you will like this book.
If you love Netflix, you will love this book because they already acquired the rights. And here, oddly, is what redeemed the book for me. A Netflix production might be what we need to make this romantic comedy truly dark beyond the superficial gloss-over of a complicated subject and a few bad words.
I look forward to seeing how the Palacio family fleshes out on film.