Cover Image: Yerba Buena

Yerba Buena

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Member Reviews

“She listened for her own breath. There it was. She was still a part of the world.”

If the novel YERBA BUENA is one thing, it’s a quiet scream: a slow, meditative story about two queer girls growing into unfinished women with an intense, incessant undercurrent of loss, grief, and pain pulsing beneath the surface of every page. It’s a beautiful book, understated in the best way, romantic but not a fantasy, a story that revels in the beauty of everyday moments and incremental progress. It deeply unsettled me and I absolutely loved it.

The novel alternates between two perspectives, Sara and Emilie. Sara grows up in a small town in Northern California with parents enmeshed in substance use. After the loss of her mother and her first love, Annie, she leaves her younger brother behind and runs away to LA where she struggles to find her footing, haunted by loss and the terrible cost of her independence. Emilie is born and raised in LA, a somewhat estranged daughter to her seemingly tight-knit family, set adrift in part by her sister’s addiction and her own sense of dislocation. After many years in college with multiple almost-finished majors and an affair with a married restaurateur, the fog she’s been living through finally begins to clear as she cares for her dying grandmother and begins to connect with her Creole heritage.

They meet as adults when each has somewhat found their place in the world: Sara as a highly acclaimed cocktail maker and restaurant consultant, Emilie as a florist and later restorer of run-down homes. Though you know the two women will meet, it’s not until over halfway through the novel that they have their first connection - and even then, despite their immediate intimacy, their relationship is initially thwarted by both external and internal forces. But throughout, LaCour beautifully ties the women together, partially through parallel experiences and feelings, and also with the recurrence of yerba buena: as an herb in the garden of a family friend, as a healing tea steeped in a gas station styrofoam cup, as the name of an upscale restaurant that enters into each woman’s sphere. There’s an unexplainable spark between them, a sense of familiarity, of safety, of home, despite their lack of time together. After the pain and struggles that each of them endure, it’s a soothing balm to see them come together at last, however imperfectly. 

LaCour captures a sense of place majestically, and not just beautiful ones - redwood groves and hipster restaurants and seaside mansions - but grimy, dingy places too, truck stop hotels and musty rural houses and those dim studio apartments that are the first independent homes for many of us. What I loved most about the rootedness of the story is how LaCour connects these places with the characters’ emotional growth, how where we are in relation to ourselves changes how we feel in a space.

With observant, straight-forward prose, this story nonetheless contains multitudes. It’s about how our parents fail us, and how our siblings can rise to support us; how they inevitably fail us too, and the beauty of reconnecting, relearning each other as adults. It’s about growing up in a small, impoverished town, and what it’s like to return after disappearing. It’s about substance use and the ripple effects on those that use, on those who love them, on family units and communities. It’s about loss and grief, about finding a space inside of you for those feelings that will never leave but learning to move forward anyway. It’s about finding your home, not so much in a specific place but in people and, most importantly, within yourself. It’s about choosing each other, despite knowing that the ways each of you are wounded will continue to hurt the other, how you will continue to come together despite this, that intentionality of choosing your person, relentlessly, regardless. This is what Sara and Emilie’s story has spoken to me, and I’m eager to hear what it will say to you.

This book has sunk its teeth into me and hasn’t let go. YERBA BUENA is one to watch out for. Thanks to Flatiron Books for the eARC; this novel comes out in May.

Content warnings: illness and dying, death of a loved one, survival sex work, child sexual abuse, addiction, death from overdose
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Yerba Buena is a fantastic exploration of nostalgia and vulnerability. I found Sara and Emilie to both be poignant characters with rich histories and complex emotions. I loved their connection throughout the story, and how their pasts contributed to who they are without defining them. This whole book feels as warm and sunny as light streaming through a window, and the descriptions of food, cocktails, and plants are all so vibrant. I know that this is a story I'll hold close to me, just as I have with all of Nina LaCour's previous books!
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Yerba Buena is a beautiful book! I listened to the audio version, and I loved every second. The story follows Annie and Sara throughout different points in their lives, though the majority of the story takes place after they first meet. Sara grew up the daughter of a drug seller and a drug user, and she loses her high school girlfriend to opioid addiction, causing Sara to run away from home and that town and find a new life in Los Angeles. Annie grew up in the shadow of her sister's addiction, and she feels lost and unmoored as she slowly finishes college and tries to figure out what she wants to do with her life. Yerba buena the plant and Yerba Buena the fictional restaurant play a repeating role in both women's lives as they come together and grow apart and back together.
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This book starts out really intense. There are some pretty heavy topics in the beginning of this book that could make it difficult to start for some. (tw: SA, SW, drug use/abuse, OD, teen death, neglect, parent death). There continue to be some heavy topics but also some beautiful moments between the characters and how you seem them pass each other through life. The things that connect them and interweave their lives together. It’s lovely to see how Emily and Sara both grow while they find themselves and each other. There are a few moments of pretension where I felt like “wait that doesn’t feel authentic at all to this character” but they were fleeting. 

Some moments are hard to get through emotionally but I also felt like it paid off in the end.
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YES YES YES. in the wise words of zoe, this book literally felt like a lorde song in the best possible way. i love nina lacour and everything she writes, and i'm not changing my mind :)
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This book. This book. This book.

It was perfect. It was tender and lovely and so, so queer. It was heartbroken in a perfect way. The heartbreak was not a result of queerness, which was so great to see. That said, there was something incredibly queer about the heartbreak that ran through this book. It was about family and friends and coincidences and choices. It was about how someone can be a little sad and a little lonely and a little lost, but can still do their best and find joy. It was about how you can change your life in big ways and small ways, and it was about how all of our choices matter. It was the perfect, lovely, sad thing that I needed in my life right now. Somehow, I found it hopeful. 

I fell in love with both of these characters completely. They were both complicated, but LaCour treated them with compassion even when they didn't deserve it. The choices that they made were completely logical, even when I wanted them to make different choices. Every moment was earned.

The writing was lovely - never overwritten, but not sparse or cold. I got lost in it. While I never wanted it to end, it was also the perfect length. I will be thinking about the ending for a long time.

One thing to note - this is not a romance. I've seen a few people who have shelved it as such on GoodReads and elsewhere. If you go into this book expecting a romance, you'll probably be disappointed. There is a romantic element, but it is not a romance by any other metric.
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Wow, I loved this book. It was well-written, compelling, the characters were relatable. It really had everything. I will highly, highly recommend this book to anyone who likes coming of age stories and/or character studies. I also like the discussion around culture and ethnicity and trying to reconnect with that aspect of ourselves. I really enjoyed this one and the cover is beautiful!
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Nina LaCour's debut adult title was fantastic. Her lyrical writing was so emotional and relatable. I love the depiction of queer women and the drama and intensity of some pretty hard backstories for these characters. I was always rooting for the romance and left so devastated in a good way by the end. LaCour is a great writer and I look forward to more adult titles from her about queer women!
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Fantastic adult/women's fic/literary fic debut from YA author Nina LaCour! Yerba Buena is a heartfelt, poignant and at times very heavy novel about relationships, identity, and growing up. It felt realistic and gentle towards its suffering protagonists. Definitely recommend.
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After some earth-shattering events that destroyed her trust in her father, Sara ran away from home at the age of 16 and never looked back, creating a new life for herself in LA. Emilie is a lost soul who seven years and five majors later is still in college with no idea what’s she’s doing. These two women connect at Yerba Buena, a glamorous restaurant where Sara is a bartender and Emilie is arranging flowers and having an affair with the owner. Despite an immediate connection, the universe keeps pulling them apart only to have them cross paths again.

Character driven stories aren’t usually my favorite, but there was something about this one that had me captivated. Following these two women as they tried to find their way in the world and try to work through their issues. LaCour’s writing is stunning and really is what made this novel feel so reflective and hopeful while also so complicated and tragic. I loved reading the women’s backstories and trying to piece together how they would become connected.

I really enjoyed the audiobook, my one complaint is that I wish each of the characters had her own narrator. As fantastic as the narrator was, it was challenging to differentiate which POV I was listening to at times.

This was my first book by Nina LaCour and it won’t be my last!

Thanks to NetGalley, MacMillan Audio, and FlatIron Books for the advanced copies.
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Beautiful, melancholic novel that I couldn't put down. Full of real life, messy as it is, relationships and people that disappoint, tragedy, beauty everywhere, if you look at it right. Amazing descriptions of cocktails and food that I wish I could go to Yerba Buena and try. A quintessential LA story as well. The only aspect I wish the author had covered a bit more deeply was [what being Creole meant to the sisters, what were some of the traditions or impacts of race, anything more than gumbo (hide spoiler)].
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That was lovely..lovely and sad but hopeful. Sara and Emilie had such distinct voices and journeys and they flowed together so beautifully. There is no where to go, except in this journey with them. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC
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Overall, I really enjoyed the story and enjoyed Nina LaCour's writing. I found the story engaging and I cared about the characters and found them they are were well rounded. I think I preferred LaCour’s writing for adults versus her YA writing but that is a personal preference.
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This was my first Nina LaCour after literal years of hearing how great and queer her writing is and if this is an indication of what her other books are like, sign me right up for that backlist.

Emilie and Sara's path's cross one morning in a restaurant, unfortunately not meant to be in that moment. From there, we non-linearly learn about both of their pasts, alternating between their points of view, and see their journey back to each other. Somebody once said that LaCour writes sad, queer girls like nobody's business, and they were right. She doesn't pull any punches with the trauma that these women are carrying into their partnership. I hesitate to say too much specifically about the content here, though I would note content warnings and proceed with caution. But the prose is stunning and full of humanity. I've rarely encountered someone who can so artfully and accurately capture the essence of loneliness and melancholy and grief and self-discovery. Though I suppose it could be considered a romance, that wasn't really the point for me as a reader. I think it is a testament to finding your people, and that when you do find them, you don't have to have resolved your own shit to love someone else. In fact, having someone love you can give you purpose and drive to fix what has felt broken. Challenging and sad, but ultimately hopeful.

CW: drug abuse, overdose, death, death of a parent, death of a grandparent, commercial sexual exploitation of a minor, infidelity
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I really enjoyed this young adult novel about a sixteen-year-old named Sara who runs away after a tragedy strikes and finds herself living in Los Angeles. I connected with this book right from the start because it begins in an area of Northern California that I am very familiar with. LaCour is a master of writing settings with verisimilitude. This is a beautifully rendered look at what it means to raise yourself when the adults around you have failed you. Sara matures into a successful bartender. Across town, Emilie feels detached from her Creole roots and is hired as a flower arranger at a fancy restaurant where she becomes intimate with floral centerpieces as well as the married owner of the restaurant. How these women intersect is at the heart of this engaging story about love and comfort. Thank you to NetGalley and Flatiron for the advanced review copy of this novel.
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This book was stunning. It’s vivid, luscious, immersive, and heartbreaking. While I cannot adopt it for my classroom (I teach 7th graders), it will hold a spot in my personal library.
I am a huge fan of Nina LaCour’s YA work. Her writing is haunting and enveloping. As I said before, she creates an immersive reading experience. Her foray into adult novels is exactly what I expected. An elevated version of her writing. Her characters are still grappling with their own demons, but the voice has shifted to a more mature yet just as uncertain narrator. You feel for Sara and Emilie. You root for them. You’re ready for them to take root. It’s the most frustrating, intense, and real relationship. This book was phenomenal!!!
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Yerba buena is a common name for many herbs, but the one this book references is a small, delicate, ground cover that thrives in even the harshest conditions. Its an apt symbol for the two women at the heart of this novel. And like this novel, the herb has a tenderness and sweetness contained within.

The book's description lead me to believe this was going to be more of a romance, but it's really a coming-of-age story of two women and their subsequent relationship at the end. Both Emilie and Sara face tough questions dealing with their pasts and where to go from there. The beauty of the story takes hold when they start building a home and a future.

Recommended for all but might be more in line with New Adult readers.
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Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC of this title. This was a delightful book, even though it dealt with some difficult subjects like addiction and grief. I love stories that switch narrators and weave the tale of two lives coming together, and this one did both flawlessly. I'm also a sucker for a queer romance. I devoured this book, and recommend for any fans of queer lit.
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I'm a huge fan of Nina LaCour and I'm very glad that she's made her adult debut. It's very different than her YA novels (and I hope that she continues to write those) but her writing is so gorgeous. I hope this is the first of many adult novels, too.

The pacing is slow but this is such a good novel in vignettes. I could've read hundreds more pages. Highly recommended.
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Let me preface by saying I LOVE Nina LaCour.  I could not get my hands on her debut adult novel fast enough, and I was not disappointed - everything about this book is perfect.  Yerba Buena follows Emilie and Sara as they weave in and out of each other’s lives from their late teens and into their twenties.  When LaCour finally brings these women together their relationship is just so real it’s almost painful to read. The beauty and intricacy with which LaCour writes queer characters and relationships is simply incredible.  I cannot wait to put this book in hands.
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