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Patsy: A Novel
by Nicole Dennis-Benn

Published: 2019-06-04
Hardcover : 432 pages
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A TODAY Show "Read with Jenna" Book Club Selection

One of the "Most Anticipated Books of the Summer": Entertainment Weekly • Vogue • TIME • Washington Post • Buzzfeed • Vulture • O Magazine • Vanity Fair • Elle • Real Simple • NYLON • New York Post • Newsday • ...

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A TODAY Show "Read with Jenna" Book Club Selection

One of the "Most Anticipated Books of the Summer": Entertainment WeeklyVogueTIMEWashington Post • Buzzfeed • Vulture • O MagazineVanity FairElleReal SimpleNYLONNew York PostNewsdaySouthern Living

A beautifully layered portrait of motherhood, immigration, and the sacrifices we make in the name of love from award-winning novelist Nicole Dennis-Benn.

When Patsy gets her long-coveted visa to America, it comes after years of yearning to leave Pennyfield, the beautiful but impoverished Jamaican town where she was raised. More than anything, Patsy wishes to be reunited with her oldest friend, Cicely, whose letters arrive from New York steeped in the promise of a happier life and the possible rekindling of their young love. But Patsy’s plans don’t include her overzealous, evangelical mother?or even her five-year-old daughter, Tru.

Beating with the pulse of a long-witheld confession, Patsy gives voice to a woman who looks to America for the opportunity to choose herself first?not to give a better life to her family back home. Patsy leaves Tru behind in a defiant act of self-preservation, hoping for a new start where she can be, and love, whomever she wants. But when Patsy arrives in Brooklyn, America is not as Cicely’s treasured letters described; to survive as an undocumented immigrant, she is forced to work as a bathroom attendant and nanny. Meanwhile, Tru builds a faltering relationship with her father back in Jamaica, grappling with her own questions of identity and sexuality, and trying desperately to empathize with her mother’s decision.

Expertly evoking the jittery streets of New York and the languid rhythms of Jamaica, Patsy weaves between the lives of Patsy and Tru in vignettes spanning more than a decade as mother and daughter ultimately find a way back to one another.

As with her masterful debut, Here Comes the Sun, Nicole Dennis-Benn once again charts the geography of a hidden world?that of a paradise lost, swirling with the echoes of lilting patois, in which one woman fights to discover her sense of self in a world that tries to define her. Passionate, moving, and fiercely urgent, Patsy is a prismatic depiction of immigration and womanhood, and the lasting threads of love stretching across years and oceans.

Editorial Review

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Discussion Questions

From Jenna:

Did you agree with Patsy's decision to leave Tru with her father at the beginning of the novel? Do you agree with it by the end?

How do Patsy's experiences in America differ from her expectations? Why do you think she continues to stay in America, even when it turns out so differently than she hoped?

What would you do if you were in Patsy's shoes in the U.S., and how?

Why do you think Patsy struggles to embrace motherhood? What early experiences seem to have colored her perception of what motherhood requires?

Why do you think Cecily is so reluctant to return Patsy’s affection? What is she most afraid of?

How does Patsy's encounter with Barrington, and his suicide after telling her to "forgive herself," impact the story?

Nicole Dennis-Benn writes: “Jamaican girls begin to perform womanhood at 11, at the latest 12 years old, their childlike wit suspended in the frozen glance of female elders, their youthfulness covered in starched uniforms and slips underneath, their animated curiosities discouraged with the weight of responsibilities like learning how to cook meat so that it’s browned properly, learning to clean, scrub stains out of white clothes, raise younger siblings, dodge the invasive lusts of older men. By 25, any hint of animation is drained out of them, the muscles of their faces tightening, downturned mouths fixed in a meanness that mocks any form of gaiety as weary eyes hold in them contempt for those who fail to conform.” What are the expectations of women in Jamaica versus America, as portrayed in "Patsy"? Can you relate to either? Why or why not?

Which character do you most identify with, if any? Why?

Do you think there’s room for a sequel? What would you hope to happen?

Though faltering at first, Roy eventually develops a close relationship with Tru. How might you describe this relationship? Is it different than you expected at the outset of the novel?

In many ways, the characters in "Patsy" try to subvert the roles expected of them — who do you think is most successful, and why?
What price has Patsy paid for freedom? Do you think she feels free?

Why do you think Patsy didn’t call or write Tru?

This book is dedicated to the “memory of the unsung stories of undocumented immigrants in search of trees with branches.” Did this story alter or shift your understanding of immigration? How so?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

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Member Reviews

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by Laura D. (see profile) 08/27/19

  "Patsy"by Carolyn R. (see profile) 08/13/19

This is a tough review to write , as I don't want this to come off as too political and I don't want to be totally insensitive. I agree the writing is good. I agree that this is a story th... (read more)

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