Yours to Keep

May 20, 2016

Yours to Keep. Serena Bell. 2013.  324 pages. Loveswept. [Source: ARC Provided courtesy of NetGalley.]

Yours to Keep intrigued me because it had an undocumented woman as its protagonist. This is definitely off the beaten path of what I typically read, so I was excited to see how Ana’s story played out. It is your typical romance in that “boy and girl meet but things can’t work out but they have to because love happens.” However, it does venture into more than that by factoring in Ana’s precarious residency in the United States. At times I felt the plot was predictable, but it didn’t always play out in the timeline nor pacing I expected. That was refreshing because it wasn’t a simple “happily ever after.” It was a bit messy at times, and had peripheral stories that were just as engaging to me as the courtship of Ana and Ethan.

To the author’s credit, she did highlight some of the nuances of life for undocumented families. The concerns about identification to do something that so many take for granted was humanizing.However, I felt she sometimes glossed over other things or even seemed to contradict herself. When one of Ana’s nephews goes to the hospital, I expected there to be a mention of the financial burden on the family. Attention had been paid to the cost of football uniforms, and the type of shampoo they used, so it would be natural to assume the cost of a hospital stay would be a concern. Yet nothing was mentioned about whether he had insurance, who would pay for it, etc. It seemed a bit out of place for me given how other topics were treated.

I also appreciated the author venturing into concerns around colorism. She mentioned Ana’s fair complexion in contrast to that of her siblings Cara and Rickey several times. She also briefly mentioned the Dominican Republic’s contentious relationship with Haiti and the way race/skin tone played into that. However, she didn’t address the tangible impacts on their relationships and experiences. I’m assuming the author isn’t a woman of color or Latina (forgive me if I’m incorrect), so I wonder if it could have been handled with more adeptly if she had been. I can’t help but wonder if Ana had the darker skin her sister Cara had, if she would have been so readily accepted into the mom circle in the book so seamlessly.

I think this book is definitely worth a recommendation. It sheds light on an experience that is often politicized, but rarely examined from the lived experience. It provides important insight without trivializing what undocumented families experience daily.

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