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Yerba Buena by Nina LaCour

Literary fiction

Yerba Buena

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by Nina LaCour

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Quick Take

Brimming with warmth and humanity, this is a tale of two perfectly imperfect women yearning for something to call home.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Romance

    Romance

  • Illustrated icon, Slow_Build

    Slow build

  • Illustrated icon, LGBTQ_themes

    LGBTQ+ themes

  • Illustrated icon, Sad

    Sad

Synopsis

When Sara Foster runs away from home at sixteen, she leaves behind not only the losses that have shattered her world but the girl she once was, capable of trust and intimacy. Years later, in Los Angeles, she is a sought-after bartender, renowned as much for her brilliant cocktails as for the mystery that clings to her.

Across the city, Emilie Dubois is in a holding pattern. In her seventh year and fifth major as an undergraduate, she yearns for the beauty and community her Creole grandparents cultivated but is unable to commit. On a whim, she takes a job arranging flowers at the glamorous restaurant Yerba Buena and embarks on an affair with the married owner.

When Sara catches sight of Emilie one morning at Yerba Buena, their connection is immediate. But the damage both women carry, and the choices they have made, pull them apart again and again. When Sara’s old life catches up to her, upending everything she thought she wanted just as Emilie has finally gained her own sense of purpose, they must decide if their love is more powerful than their pasts.

At once exquisite and expansive, astonishing in its humanity and heart, Yerba Buena is a love story for our time and a propulsive journey through the lives of two women finding their way in the world.

Why I love it

I admit that I rarely find love stories appealing. I know, I know—I’m in the minority here, but I always end up annoyed by one of the primary characters or eye-rolling at the romantic parts. But Yerba Buena may have cured me of my disdain for love stories. Nina LaCour tells a story that is altogether different from the love stories I’ve read before: this one is gritty, nuanced, heartbreaking, and achingly real.

Another thing that makes this story so special is how the two protagonists, Sara Foster and Emilie Dubois, come to life on the page. We get to know Sara and Emilie individually before we know them as a couple. Sara is raised by a single dad, surrounded by addiction and poverty, and leaves home at 16 after an unspeakable tragedy. Emilie’s family is also marked by addiction and the resulting dysfunction leaves her without a true sense of self. Both women are struggling to find their passion and place in the world. By chance, the two converge at Yerba Buena, a hip Los Angeles restaurant. Emilie takes a job arranging flowers; Sara is the new sought-after bartender. They are immediately drawn to each other and yet, in a way that felt heartbreaking and true, circle around their relationship before being ready to partner.

The book brilliantly portrays how love for oneself must come before true love for another. Sara and Emilie must first learn to forgive themselves for past mistakes before they can move forward in life, individually and together. The writing is sharp and the emotional pitch is perfectly calibrated. This is a love story unlike any you’ve read before.

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Literary fiction
View all
Margo’s Got Money Troubles
Annie Bot
Mercury
The Other Valley
The Bullet Swallower
Alice Sadie Celine
Let Us Descend
Banyan Moon
Shark Heart
Dominicana
What's Mine and Yours
Ask Again, Yes
Vladimir
Infinite Country
The Many Daughters of Afong Moy
Black Buck
Luster
Paper Names
The Light Pirate
The Half Moon
Valentine
Leave the World Behind
Little Monsters
Yerba Buena
Beautiful World, Where Are You
Free Food for Millionaires
Sing, Unburied, Sing
Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?
Future Home of the Living God
Red Clocks
The Mars Room
Eat Only When You're Hungry
Unsheltered
The Goldfinch
Welcome to Braggsville
Heat & Light
Nicotine
Perfect Little World
Someday, Maybe