Cover Image: Yerba Buena

Yerba Buena

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Member Reviews

Yerba Buena is the story of Sara, who runs away from her hometown in northern CA after two brutal losses, and Emilie, whose sense of self-worth has taken blow after subtle blow until she finds herself a 7th year undergraduate student, unsure of what she wants in everything from a major to a lover. The women cross paths in Yerba Buena, an LA restaurant where they both work at different points, and spend many of the following years being pulled in and out of each others’ worlds as they grow past versions of themselves they’re trying, desperately, to leave behind.

Briefly mentioned in the synopsis are Sara’s job as a bartender and Emilie’s, arranging flowers, but it’s only when you read the book that you see how central their work is to the story. For me, the most striking parts of Yerba Buena were the two women experiencing each other’s creative genius. The most captivating scenes were their careful, observant, detailed descriptions of what goes into choosing ingredients and flavors for a drink, colors and textures for a bouquet. Sara and Emilie are not artists in the traditional sense of the word, but they turn their work into art experiences that are immediately noticed by the other. To me, romances propped up purely by physical attraction are hard to invest in but the Yerba Buena flavor - attraction stemming from creative talent - is incredibly compelling.  Emilie, placing the right ferns in a bouquet; Sara, creating the right flavors in a drink. A love story that takes flight from noticing the artistry and magic someone’s infused into their innocuous job.

(Is that what a soulmate is? Someone whose ordinary work and life seems like an act of brilliant creativity?)

All in all, this book is many things: an engaging story told through quiet writing, a slow bloom of a character study centering responsibility and identity, a reminder that magic can exist in the queer love you have for people that didn’t bring you to queerness itself. 

It is sharp, sour, sweet, sunny - much like a good summer drink - and I highly recommend getting yourself a copy when it comes out May 31st (many thanks to NetGalley for the ARC) to experience Nina LaCour absolutely kill it at adult fiction.
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I've been waiting to read Yerba Buena after loving and reading Nina LaCour's YA books, and it didn't disappoint. Nina writes with so much emotion, that it's hard not to relate to her characters. The intersection of Sarah and Emilie's lives was well done. I found myself relating to both Sarah and Emilie as well as empathizing with their traumas. Their lives are complicated and messy which made for a truly authentic story.

CW: drug use, overdose, sex work, sexual assault of a child, death of a parent
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I have read a few of Nina Lacour's YA novels, and they are quiet, yet lovely, much like Yerba Buena. The story, admittedly, started out a little slowly for me, as the author's books tend to, likely because it took me a minute to care about the characters. I was sympathetic toward both women from the start, but as the book went on, I absolutely began to care about them.

We follow the two women through their teen years and into young adulthood, where they both go through quite a bit. Their stories lead us to discover how the women have become who they are today, but also how they ended up crossing paths and finding each other. The bread and butter of this story is of course the personal journeys of both women coming of age, and figuring themselves out. They must navigate friendships, first loves, losses, and changing family dynamics.

This is certainly not a plot heavy book, but if you are in it for character development and a strong focus on relationships (romantic and otherwise) then this is a lovely story to embark on.

Bottom Line: A quiet yet beautifully woven tale of two women finding themselves and each other in the midst of life's triumphs and heartbreaks.
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The first two chapters are so distinctly different, both in the narration style and the character's journeys, at first Yerba Buena read as a collection of short stories. I actually looked it up when I was halfway through the second chapter to see if it was, only to find that the two protagonists' journeys intersect down the road. Now I was reading it with a new lens, trying to find the ways in which these women's stories would connect. 

A total exploration of grief and loss and finding our way through the world, LaCour's new book was beautifully written and deeply emotional. It's a complicated love story between Sara and Emilie, who have gone through so much, and are trying to find out if their love will win out despite their ongoing struggles to reconcile with their pasts.
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3.75. I liked this books but I had some qualms.

1. Emilie is insufferable up until she starts caring for her grandmother. The privilege reeked and it was hard for me to have empathy for her character, although she grew on me in the last half. I think part of it was it was very hard to find her relatable based on my experiences and she came off as whiny, especially with her story being the stark contrast to Sara’s. 

2. The pacing of this felt disjointed and jumpy at times, especially when the author does not always give you a metric to know how much time has passed when she jumps years ahead. 

3. The ending just felt a tad incomplete. I really loved it but I felt like it could’ve used just a *bit* more to tie it together 

4. Overall it felt too ambitious. I think focusing on maybe one or two less story plots or shortening the time span this book takes place over would have done the story wonders.

Overall though I liked it, I loved Sara, and the last half was much stronger than the first IMO. I’d read another LaCour.
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Yerba Buena follows two queer women, Sara and Emilie, as they twist their lives around their traumas. Told from their alternating points of view, you slowly watch their lives start to entangle. Can they look past the pain of their past - the death of a lover and having a drug addict for a sister? Can they finally become whole again wrapped in each other’s arms? Or will their fear keep them at arm’s reach, knowing they could pull each other up from the depths of despair they can’t seem to climb out of?
 
In true Nina LaCour fashion, this book introduced trauma and drug you through the mud with the characters. I don’t know how she manages to pull me in like she does. I read this in nearly one sitting, just as I always do because I truly could not put it down.
 
Sara has a sad past – she lost her mother to illness and now lives with her younger brother and her nearly absent father. Sara is a lesbian and is in a secret relationship with her best friend, two years running. One night, during intimacy, she notices a mark at her girlfriend’s inner elbow – her heart drops. She ignores it, it could be nothing, right? Until she gets a call from her father, she’s missing.
 
Emilie returns home from working in the church gardens with her best friend Pablo. She opens the door and her father, Bas, tells her to call an ambulance. Her sister is unconscious from an overdose. Her father told her to stay home and wait – she sits in the dark and waits. Her relationship with her sister forever changed.
 
Both of these characters go through waves of healing, and you go through the long process together. I really liked how LaCour showed their traumas, how they always came back to the Yerba Buena, how it drew them together. This is her adult debut, and it couldn’t have been more perfect. I will say, even though it’s adult, there’s not really any spicy scenes. Although, I don’t feel like they would fit well into this book. It’s contents are too sensitive to include smut. I really couldn’t recommend this book enough.
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A shifting narrative between two women from their teens to their 20’s, their ups and their downs. I didn’t like how it started, looking back to the rest of the book, it was much too quick. The two women’s lives converge slowly and I liked the way they were brought together, it felt natural; sounded like a click. I didn’t care much for these characters at first but as I read on and more of their lives are revealed, I warmed up to them eventually. I think they weren’t as engaging as the could have been; not really much of a hindrance for me though The themes in this book were heavy, I was satisfied with the way some were touched upon while others I wished were dealt with less superficially. The back and forth in time without outright saying how much has passed annoyed me at first until I eventually understood the style the book was going for.

What made me really appreciate this was the writing and the atmosphere. A very smooth read, consistent from beginning to end; both sad and hopeful. It had a gentle tone to it that I think complimented well.
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This book started off pretty dark but there is a lot of light, love and growth by the end. I also wasn't put off by the start at all even though it was a bit heart-breaking. This just enveloped me and comforted me -- I was rooting for the characters but also just wanted to find out what would happen.  It certainly became unputdownable and I know I will re-read this.  I also loved the narrator!

This book was just beautiful and I didn't want it to end.  Yerba Buena comes out next week on May 31, 2022, you can purchase HERE, and I hope you consider reading this one!  

They rode together up the hill. Blur of trees and sky outside, groan of brakes, a current between them. With each curve of the road, the press of one bare shoulder against another, until the bus slowed and stopped. 

The doors folded open, they stepped out to the street. Armstrong Drive dead-ended there--a parking lot, a ranger's station, the entrance to the woods. Sara unzipped her backpack and pulled out a thermos, unscrewed the lid and sipped. Their fingers touched as Annie took it, and Sara watched Annie press her mouth against its metal rim and drink.
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An absolutely stunning adult debut from Nina LaCour! A sapphic literary romance that pulls no punches and shows the complexity of queer womanhood, trauma, and the uncertainity adulthood brings to all of us. This is a story about two young queer women, set over the course of ten years that explores elements of family trauma, self doubt, grief, and the pain that often comes with love. 

Something to keep in mind - this book is not your typical genre romance novel, and I do not say that as a slight to this book; this is one of my only full five star books of 2022. This is just something to consider when book talking or when you go to pick it up to read yourself. It has element of a romance and does have a Happlily for Now ending, but this reads much more like a literary novel that is character driven and about self exploration, trauma and grief  (and beautiful prose) than about plot and getting to that HEA.
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Although I'm not sure I personally vibe with a book where one character is so wispy I can't grasp her, who's who in her life, and why I should care to remember, the other lead is a solid anchor and the book feels much more grounded once they meet (well, re-meet). It's certainly not my favorite LaCour (which is, oddly enough, We Are Okay, a book that's probably emotionally very similar if I think about it), and the time-hopping in the beginning does it no favors, but it still kept me invested and now that I've finished it, I realize it was only because this book felt like it delved so deep into fifteen years of their lives that I can't even pinpoint the when of my annoyance. It's a subtle thing LaCour does here, and I've seen other characters like Emilie who are drippy or victims. If the worst thing about her is that I got a little frustrated...good job.
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I appreciated the opportunity to read an early copy of this novel. While it's been awhile since I first read it, I remember I liked it but it hasn't been a book that has stayed with me.
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I wish I would have read this book closer to straight through for more emotional continuity, but the initial chapters of the main characters’ teenage lives were so heavy that I needed a break before continuing. Upon picking it back up (a week later) the first chapter back, now in their adult lives, was so long, it didn’t really grab me and had me considering DNFing the book - ARC or no. The second half was better, though I agree with other reviews that this book seemed to struggle with its identity throughout. 

Some of the relationships were extremely successful for me, while many more were not. Sara and Emilie’s chemistry was well charged and easily believable - one of the first things that felt right, flowy, and made me curious - and I enjoyed Emilie’s and Colette’s sister dynamic and growth. The connection to food also worked for me, it felt natural through both characters’ reasons and dishes and ingredients were described invitingly and organically. Over the course of the book I’d say our mains get equal story time, though the details of both parts of Sara’s life seem to outshine and take over Emilie’s, but that could be because I felt more connected to Sara. 

I was glad that the story did grow, but the constantly changing tone and focus left it just okay for me. But. It did make me want to buy a yerba buena plant. 💁🏻‍♀️

<i>Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a digital ARC of this book!</i>
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I was really excited that Nina LaCour was going to write an adult novel, so I was eager to get my hands on this. Her debut adult novel did not let readers down. I really enjoyed this book and I think other people will really enjoy this too.
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I had to DNF this book at only 10% unfortunately. I love Nina LaCour, I've read a few of her YA books and short stories and her writing grips my heart in a beautifully heartbreaking way so I was so excited for this book. However, after reading only a couple chapters I had to put it down and admit that I cannot mentally make it through this book. There's nothing wrong with this book as far as I could tell, her writing is wonderful as always. But, that was my main problem. It is so engaging I fell into the story quickly and that left me too emotionally on edge in a short period of time. This book was already so brutal and I don't think I would have been okay mentally had I continued.
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When she is sixteen years old, Sara runs away from home, fleeing her family and her town after a traumatic event.  After years of struggles, Sara is now a popular bartender in Los Angeles at Yerba Buena, a well-known LA restaurant.  There, she meets Emilie, who creates stunning flower arrangements for the restaurant.  Emilie has had a winding path, constantly changing college majors as she searches for what she really wants to do.  The timing is off at their first meeting.  When Sara and Emilie reconnect years later, they both seem ready to explore their connection.   But Sara's past invades her present, breaking them apart once again.  As they continue to explore their personal and professional relationships, finding success and setbacks, they hope to find a future together -- but are not sure they can overcome their mutual and individual pasts.

This is a powerful book, with indelible characters, strong writing, and a compelling story.  Highly recommended!
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Yerba Buena is like everything that Nina LaCour writes in it’s simple, beauty and lovely heartbreak. I believe she could write a restaurant menu that would make me feel emotional. I could not have loved this story more. 

Advanced reader’s copy provided by NetGallery in exchange for an honest review. Publication date is May 31, 2022.
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I kept listening because of Julia Wehlan's narration and not the story itself. The alternating narrative perspectives felt disconnected to me.
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This was quite well written and I would understand why someone would heap praise onto it, but I was just bored the whole way through. I usually love character studies and it's hard to put my finger on why exactly it fell flat for me, but I at the end of the day I didn't really care much about either Sara or Emilie or their romance.
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There is something about Nina LaCour's books that fill my heart. Even when they are not particularly happy, they leave me feeling full of emotion and love.
Yerba Buena, LaCour's first adult novel, was no exception to this. In fact, this may be her best work yet- and We Are Okay is one of my absolute favorite books. I hope that this book is nominated for all of the awards and that it reaches a wide variety of readers.
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Yerba Buena follows two women over the course of their childhood to their late twenties. Sara Foster runs away from home at sixteen to leave the losses behind her that have shattered her ability to trust and be intimate with others. Years later, she is a sought-after bartender in Los Angeles, as much renowned for her concoctions as the air of mystery surrounding her and her past. Across the city, Emily Dubois is struggling to get started with her future. In her seventh year and fifth major as an undergraduate, she years for beauty and community her Creole grandparents cultivated but can’t find it in herself to commit—to anything or anyone. Impulsively, she decides to take on a job arranging flowers for the glamorous restaurant Yerba Buena—where Sara works. When the two women catch sight of each other, their connection is immediate. But the baggage both women carry is heavy and the universe has a way of cutting them off right when they’re about to connect time and again. When Sara’s old life comes calling just when Emilie and her have found their way to each other, it’s up to them to figure out whether their love is enough to leave their pasts in the dust.

Yerba Buena isn’t easily categorised. For me, it turned out to be nothing like I expected and yet held me captive for the entirety of the book. At times, Yerba Buena read like a reluctant memoir, at others almost like an exorcism of ghosts of the past that haunted the characters.

In this slice of life narrative, we follow two women who ostensibly have nothing in common and yet somehow fit together perfectly. LaCour takes her time to establish both Sara and Emilie as flawed, relatable and lovable characters that you immediately begin to root for. Both Emilie and Sara have got their own struggles but their connection with each other is palpable from their very first chance encounter. Yet they both are faced time and again with the question whether love—real, unconditional love—is enough to make them leave their ghosts in the past. Anyone who’s ever been haunted by their mistakes, their losses or their regrets will surely feel connected to these women.

Ultimately, what drew me to this book was that, as much as it seems to be about star-crossed lovers, it really focused more on trauma and grief. There is an intimacy to how LaCour depicts what happens to Sara and Emilie —and much of this story is what happens to the characters until they finally realise their own agency and try to get out of the harmful and toxic situations they keep finding themselves in. It felt affirming to read about two women who also can’t help but fall into these traps that we’ve all encountered in life and struggle with finding their way out—there are no perfect characters here, everyone is flawed, moral compasses are askew and it just perfectly worked paired with LaCour’s storytelling. Both Sara and Emilie go through different journeys and emotional reprieves are few and fleeting. Though you kind of guess that they’ll cross paths again, you’re always left wondering what else the universe has got in store for them, which compelled me to keep reading. Weaving their tales together toward the end of the book almost felt cathartic.

What I really enjoyed about Yerba Buena was how it showed you how transient everything in life is only to follow it up with something that left a permanent impression you can’t really put into words. LaCour brings this ineffable feeling to every topic discussed in the story—from the depiction of grief to child neglect to missing loved ones and the deep abyss of depression. Yet the story also delivers moments of happiness, of inner strength, of taking yourself out of a harmful situation and, most of all, persevering when life tries to get you down again and again. It’s a masterfully crafted story that at times flows and ebbs like the sea—meaning that sometimes the pacing felt like a Monday that never ends and at others raced the clock when you’re late for an appointment you already don’t feel like going to. It’s a story that essentially shows that no matter how hard or messy life gets, you can always get up one more time. Its heavy themes are explored in excruciating detail but if you’re up for it, I’m sure you’ll fall in love with this heartbreaking yet rewarding story.

A true slice of life narrative, Nina La Cour’s adult debut Yerba Buena is a story of love and loss, family and friendship, of two women finding their way in the world—and each other. At times brutally honest and at others comforting and intimate, this story is perfect for anyone who has ever been kicked down by life only to get up again.
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