In her perceptive, memorable debut, Coster reveals the personal toll that gentrification takes on one damaged Bed-Stuy family. Twenty-something art school dropout Penelope Grand has been living in Pittsburgh for several years and has no plans to return to her native Brooklyn. But after her ailing father, Ralph, takes a fall, she returns to help care for him. Ralph’s record store was once the crown jewel of the neighborhood’s black-owned businesses, with all the status that conferred; after business dwindled and he sold out to a trendy organic grocer, he has steadily declined, along with—in his estimation—the neighborhood itself. “It’s all just stuff to them,” he tells Penelope. “Stuff they think they deserve because they can afford it.” Penelope’s homecoming dredges up uncomfortable memories; as she negotiates the still-familiar streets, she attempts to define her place within her family, neighborhood, and artistic community, all of which comes to a head when her estranged mother invites her to the Dominican Republic. Penelope’s status as both an insider and an outsider in her childhood home affords Coster an acute perspective from which to consider the repercussions of gentrification, as well as a family’s legacy of self-destruction. (Jan.)
When Penelope Grand leaves Pittsburgh and her failed art career to return to Brooklyn to be near her aging and ailing father, Ralph, she discovers her old neighborhood is barely recognizable owing to gentrification. But Penelope, independent and unwilling to move back into her fractured family's home (her estranged mother, Mirella, left them and moved back to the Dominican Republic), rents the attic apartment from a well-off white family nearby. Despite a positive beginning, relations with her landlords quickly become strained, and after Ralph has an accident, Penelope surprises everyone and accepts Mirella's postcard invitation to visit her. The women have different motives and expectations, though, and the future is uncertain thanks to their shared pride and stubbornness. In her stunning debut novel, Coster remarkably renders the complexities of people and their many relationships as well as the tricky interplay of past and present. Alternately delivered from the perspective of Penelope and Mirella (with a little Spanish mixed in), Coster's realistic depictions of these two hurt and angry women and the broken man who connects them will haunt readers while making them flinch, gasp, and quite possibly cry. VERDICT Wow. Powerful, unforgettable, and not to be missed.—Samantha Gust, Niagara Univ. Lib., NY
Penelope Graves is in Pittsburgh, trying to establish herself as an artist. She is also trying to establish herself as, well, herself—reconciling herself to her heritage. Her father is African American, and her mother is Dominican. When they split up, her father stayed in Brooklyn to run his record store and her mother returned to her own mother's house in the Dominican Republic. Penny returns to the rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant to look after her ailing father. Penny's mother, Mirelle, writes to Penny asking for reconciliation, and Penny's loyalty is torn three ways: to her mother, to her father, and to herself. It takes the friendship and (eventually) love of John, a local bartender, to provide Penny with the anchor that she needs. Bahni Turpin's narration is strong and clear, though it is annoying that she continually pronounces "RISD" [Rhode Island School of Design] as the letters "R-I-S-D" rather than the acronym "Rizdee," which is how any former student would refer to it. VERDICT Recommended for contemporary public library collections. ["Coster's realistic depictions of these two hurt and angry women and the broken man who connects them will haunt readers while making them flinch, gasp, and quite possibly cry…. not to be missed": LJ 1/18 starred review of the Little A hc.]—Nann Blaine Hilyard, Winthrop Harbor, IL
Penelope is in a quarter-life crisis. Having dropped out of art school, she spends her days underemployed, drinking gin, and taking anonymous lovers. She can no longer hide out in Pittsburgh when she receives a call that her father, the incomparable Ralph Grand, has harmed himself, and she must come back to her home in Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn and care for him. Matters are further complicated when Penelope must reach out to her estranged mother, Mirella, now living in the Dominican Republic, who abandoned her father a few years before to rediscover herself back in the country of her birth. With great subtlety and detail, Coster has woven a tale that deals with gentrification, loneliness, and a very flawed and complex family. Penelope is deeply imperfect but remains relatable and real. As she navigates a neighborhood that was once her childhood home, as well as the location of her father's once successful business, she and her family grieve not only for what they've lost but also what they have become. VERDICT This is a tender story that packs as much hurt as it does heart. Recommended for fans of Zinzi Clemmons's What We Lose and Brit Bennett's The Mothers.—Christina Vortia, Hype Lit, Land O'Lakes, FL
A quiet gut-punch of a debut, Coster's novel is a family saga set against the landscape of gentrifying Brooklyn.After five years away in Pittsburgh—a city whose primary appeal is its distance from Brooklyn—Penelope Grand, former artist and current bartender, reluctantly returns to Bedford-Stuyvesant to care for her ailing and beloved father, Ralph, moving into a sublet a few streets away from her childhood home. But the neighborhood has changed in her absence: her landlords, the Harpers, new to the block from the West Village, embody the shift—a young family, white, wealthy, attracted to the "historic" homes and the lower price tags. And yet the Harpers' charming yellow house—and the affections of the charming father—offer Penelope an escape from the life she's returned to. At least for a while. But when a postcard from her estranged mother, Mirella, shows up addressed to her from the Dominican Republic (Penelope isn't the only one in her family desperate for escape), Penelope is forced to deal with a past she'd rather ignore. Alternating between Penelope's perspective and Mirella's, moving seamlessly back and forth in time, Coster pieces together the story of the Grand family: Mirella and Ralph's early courtship and the first days of their marriage in Brooklyn, Ralph's iconic record store and the accident that followed its closing, Penelope's miserable freshman year at the Rhode Island School of Design, her childhood trips with Mirella to the DR, and now—in the present—their final chance at something like reconciliation. Gorgeous and painfully unsentimental, the book resists easy moralizing: everyone is wonderful and terrible, equal parts disappointed and disappointing. The plot is simple, relatively speaking, but Coster is a masterful observer of family dynamics: her characters, to a one, are wonderfully complex and consistently surprising. Absorbing and alive, the kind of novel that swallows you whole.