Family Lore by Elizabeth Acevedo

Listen Sistah Gworls, if there’s one thing I know in the 2,023rd year of our Lord, it’s that Elizabeth Acevedo can’t miss!

Every time I gladly exchange my coins for one of her books, I know I’ll be met with vivacious characters, a plot to cry for, and a writing style that has me enrolling in yet another writing workshop. Family Lore, Acevedo’s Adult Fiction debut, doesn’t disappoint.

Let’s talk about it…

Book Review: 'Family Lore,' by Elizabeth Acevedo - The New York TimesThe women of the Marte family are full-bodied—fierce and flawed, with notes of charisma, resilience, rebellion, and most of all ‘magic.’

Each woman is blessed with a gift ranging from the ability to hear lies, to the more eccentric gift of having a vagina that can be loosened, tightened, “moisturized,” deodorized, etc. on command.

But the most unnerving gift, the one central to this story, is Flor’s ability to predict the death of anyone she knows.

The story begins when, after watching a documentary on Netflix, Flor is inspired to celebrate her life by hosting a living wake.

This is the worst thing she could have done to her family because now they have to figure out whether she’s going to die, on top of wrestling with their own secrets including infidelity, infertility, and the return of a long-lost love.

It is in this environment that we’re dropped, three days before the wake, as the family struggles to navigate all that may (or may not) be coming. What infuriates the family the most during this time is that Flor remains tightlipped about whether she’s seen her death.

In search of answers, everyone flocks to the lie-detecting sister, Pastora, but she’s so distraught by the circumstances that she refuses to truly acknowledge them.

This treatment of Flor’s maybe impending death as it relates to Pastora’s ability is one of the things I loved most about this book. The idea of a person being able to detect deceit can be found in many a Fantasy novel, but Acevedo offers a fresh, nuanced, and thoughtful take on something that could easily become gimmicky.

real talk | Zikoko! Memes

At times, Pastora is seen as hard and unfeeling, but savvy readers will quickly understand why. What Acevedo explores through Pastora’s character is not the ability to detect lies, but the effects of hearing those lies, and how she’s had to continually steel herself against them while also deciding what to do with the truth.

I know you’re ready to snatch up your copy, but before you do, I gotta let you know that this book is told from multiple characters—6, to be exact, it also includes some time jumps.

These kinds of books usually leave me throwed, especially when there are more characters than Eddie Murphy played in Coming to America. And while I must admit, I had to flip to the character list in front of the book a few times to remind myself of their names, I adored every character Acevedo created.

Which is wild because this is also one area I would have loved to see developed more.

Because the book follows so many characters, I didn’t get to spend as much time with them as I wanted.

As a writer, I know you can’t give the entire life story of all of them, but I wanted to know a bit more about who they were presently, especially regarding Flor’s daughter, Ona, and her niece Yadi.

Still, I need Ms. Elizabeth to teach a character creation class because she has this way of getting down to the bones of a person; finding all the little things—the minutiae—that gradually build on top of the other and shape us into who we are.

Acevedo also does a beautiful job deftly weaving the sister’s upbringing in Santo Domingo with their present reality in New York City.

This was needed to understand the dynamics of the relationships, but it meandered in such a way that I couldn’t remember what was happening once it came back to the present.

Still, her poetic style of writing always saved the day—yes, I’m biased!

“They are failed by a culture that writes them off as criminal so that they must create their own internal laws. I don’t argue they are freedom fighters. Or are undoing enslavement. I only mean, on this side of the world, every descendent of enslavement, of that inherited and invasive oppression, dreams of an island of their own, a slice of communal freedom, a hard-won respite from a world that reminds them time and time again they are destined to be shackled from every angle.”
― Elizabeth Acevedo, Family Lore

One theme that I connected with in Family Lore was perception.

This played out in how one sister, Matilde, experienced a delayed acceptance of her gift because she perceived it as lacking compared to the rest of her family.

It’s also seen in how the women were raised, their upbringing created a somewhat distorted view of their parents and themselves; how the differing ways parents treat and respond to their children build resentments and damages relationships before they’ve truly had a chance to form.

Even with the rivalries and assumptions that led the sisters to not mind their business and drink their water, I still came away curious about my own mother’s story and wishing for a closer relationship with my Aunts.

Michael Jordan doesn't mind the Crying Jordan meme — unless it costs him money - The Washington Post

Any book that highlights my experiences and causes me to question or long for something better is a must-read.

This isn’t my [favorite] book by Acevedo—hello, With the Fire on High—but it’s a much-needed, strong debut in the Adult Fiction space.

If you aren’t sold yet, here are a few of my favorite things from the book that might pull you in:

-The Spanish thrown in without context.

-Aunt [REDACTED], whose name can never be said lest ye be cursed!

-The 2nd porn incident that’s super cringe and also page-turning (yes, there are 2, but no, it’s not graphic).

-This quote: “How do lineages of women from colonized places, where emphasis is put on silent enduring, learn when and where to confide in their own family if forbearance is the only attitude elevated and modeled?”

-And this one: “Says the girl who never met a past boo she wanted to leave in the past. Every one of your breakups lasted a hundred years.”

-Last one, I promise: “It’s silly to have a nickname for a nickname, but we’d always loved taking apart each other’s names and seeing how else we could arrange the letters into love.”

This is an 8/10 recommendation for me. Grab your copy here!

Read it already? Tell me your favorite Aunt or gift in the comments!



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