Book Review

Olga Dies Dreaming

Olga Dies Dreaming

  • Author: Xóchitl González
  • Genre: General Fiction
  • Publication Date: January 4, 2022
  • Publisher: Macmillan Audio

Thank you to libro.fm for providing me with an ALC of this book. I am offering my honest opinion voluntarily.

CONTENT WARNING: death, suicide, infidelity, parental abandonment, death of a parent, addiction, homophobia, racism, mention of abortion, off-page rape

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A blazing talent debuts with the tale of a status-driven wedding planner grappling with her social ambitions, absent mother, and Puerto Rican roots, all in the wake of Hurricane Maria

It’s 2017, and Olga and her brother, Pedro “Prieto” Acevedo, are bold-faced names in their hometown of New York. Prieto is a popular congressman representing their gentrifying Latinx neighborhood in Brooklyn while Olga is the tony wedding planner for Manhattan’s powerbrokers.

Despite their alluring public lives, behind closed doors things are far less rosy. Sure, Olga can orchestrate the love stories of the 1%, but she can’t seem to find her own…until she meets Matteo, who forces her to confront the effects of long-held family secrets…

Twenty-seven years ago, their mother, Blanca, a Young Lord-turned-radical, abandoned her children to advance a militant political cause, leaving them to be raised by their grandmother. Now, with the winds of hurricane season, Blanca has come barreling back into their lives.

Set against the backdrop of New York City in the months surrounding the most devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico’s history, Olga Dies Dreaming is a story that examines political corruption, familial strife and the very notion of the American dream–all while asking what it really means to weather a storm.

This is such an incredible story, and to know that it’s a debut makes it that much more impressive. It follows the story of Olga and Prieto, a pair of Puerto Rican siblings who are born and raised in Brooklyn and facing some major hurdles while trying to make things look good on the outside. 

Although these siblings are outwardly successful, with Olga being an upscale wedding planner and Prieto is a politician, they’re both dealing with the long-suppressed trauma of their upbringing — their mother abandoned them to become a radical, and their father had some issues of their own. Olga has relationship difficulties, despite being able to make other people’s wedding dreams come true. And Prieto is keeping some secrets, although maybe not as effectively as he thinks he is. They’re related to his own family history and how he’s internalized it. 

When Hurricane Maria hits, Olga and Prieto are each stirred into action in different ways. But when their mother blows back into their life, it turns everything upside down for them both, and makes them question everything. I found both of the characters so relatable, and was incredibly invested in their stories from the start. When they reached the point where things really started changing for them, I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next, and to see what choices they made.

The story doesn’t shy away from the difficult topics. There’s a heavy dose of Puerto Rican culture throughout the story, and I loved seeing it come through so clearly in every aspect of the character’s lives. It also touched on the disconnect between the characters having been raised in New York, and visiting Puerto Rico and feeling out of place. There’s a heavy emphasis on Puerto Rican history and how colonization influenced that, as well as how it continues to play a role in how the territory is managed, especially when a character is told that if she doesn’t like how the president acts, she should go back to where she comes from. It shows the racism and ignorance that is so prevalent, since a) Puerto Rico is part of the United States, and b) people of color aren’t always from other places. I wanted to scream in frustration on the character’s behalf, so I can’t even imagine how that must feel to hear directly, which I’m sure happens more often than not. The story also addresses inequity in society, gentrification, addiction, poverty, homophobia, and AIDS, all of which were done beautifully. 

Since I listened to this as an audiobook, I’ve definitely got to mention how well this was narrated by Almarie Guerra, Inés del Castillo, and Armando Riesco. Each of them truly personified their character, and did an amazing job with this story. By the end, I felt as though I already knew the characters, and had celebrated their successes and mourned their losses with them. This is one of those books that’s going to stick with me for a long time, and I know I’ll be looking out for the next book from this incredible author.

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