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Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez
Contemporary fiction

Olga Dies Dreaming

Debut

We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Xochitl Gonzalez, on your first book!

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by Xochitl Gonzalez

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Quick take

Two siblings vie for the American dream until Hurricane Maria drags their estranged mother back into their lives.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_FamilyDrama

    Family drama

  • Illustrated icon, Icons_Buzzy

    Buzzy

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_MamaDrama

    Mama drama

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Nyc

    NYC

Synopsis

It's 2017, and Olga and her brother, Pedro “Prieto” Acevedo, are boldfaced names in their hometown of New York. Prieto is a popular congressman representing their gentrifying Latinx neighborhood in Brooklyn, while Olga is the tony wedding planner for Manhattan’s power brokers.

Despite their alluring public lives, behind closed doors things are far less rosy. Sure, Olga can orchestrate the love stories of the 1 percent but she can’t seem to find her own. . . until she meets Matteo, who forces her to confront the effects of long-held family secrets.

Olga and Prieto’s mother, Blanca, a Young Lord turned radical, abandoned her children to advance a militant political cause, leaving them to be raised by their grandmother. Now, with the winds of hurricane season, Blanca has come barreling back into their lives.

Set against the backdrop of New York City in the months surrounding the most devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico’s history, Xochitl Gonzalez’s Olga Dies Dreaming is a story that examines political corruption, familial strife, and the very notion of the American dream—all while asking what it really means to weather a storm.

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Content warning

This book contains mentions of suicide and sexual assault.

Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of Olga Dies Dreaming.
Olga Dies Dreaming

The Napkins

The telltale sign that you are at the wedding of a rich person is the napkins. At the not-rich person’s wedding, should a waiter spill water or wine or a mixed drink of well liquor onto the napkin-covered lap of a guest, the beverage would bead up and roll off the cheap square of commercially laundered polyblend fabric, down the guest’s legs, eventually pooling on the hideous, overly busy patterned carpet designed and chosen specifically to mask these such stains. At the rich person’s wedding, however, the napkins are made of a European linen fine enough for a Tom Wolfe suit, hand-pressed into smooth order and trimmed with a gracious hemstitch border. Should the waiter spill any of the luxury bottled water, vintage wine, or custom-crafted cocktails designed by a mixologist for the occasion, the napkin would, dutifully, absorb any moisture before the incident could irritate a couture-clad guest. Of course, at the rich person’s wedding the waitstaff don’t spill things; they have been separated and elevated from their more slovenly, less-coordinated brethren in a natural selection process of the service industry that judges on appearance, gait, and inherent knowledge of which side to serve from and which to clear. The rich person’s wedding also never features hideous carpet. Not because the venue or locale might not have had one, but because they had the money to cover it over. And not necessarily just with another nicer, more tasteful carpet, but with hardwood flooring, black and white Havana-inspired tiles, or even actual, natural grass. These, though, were the more obvious markers of wealth at a milestone life celebration for the rich person, and while Olga Isabel Acevedo’s job required her to worry about all of these elements and more, the present moment found her primarily concerned with the napkins. Mainly, how she could steal them when the party was over.

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Why I love it

While our inner selves are always changing, it’s often hard to separate our identities from the places that shaped us. Olga Dies Dreaming is a rich exploration of that eternal theme, carefully illuminating the complexities of a seemingly familiar topic.

In a rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn, siblings Olga and Pedro (aka Prieto) walk a delicate balance between remembering their roots and surviving within the worlds of wealthy socialites and problematic politicians. Prieto works as a congressman while Olga choreographs weddings for the wealthy with finesse. But they didn’t reach these goals easily. The two grew up largely fending for themselves, while their father struggled with addiction, eventually passing away. Their mother left them behind for her own political goals, sending letters now and then from undisclosed locations. Her quest to bring more power to Puerto Rico through radical means is at the forefront of her mind, always — even as Olga and Prieto lead their lives in ways they hope their mother will praise. Their grandmother’s house in Sunset Park is their anchor, with family rotating in and out.

But when Hurricane Maria hits, the fragile facade of their family dynamics start to unravel. The siblings must find their own footing — and accept the truth about their mother. The novel investigates what happens when you slowly realize the person you most yearn for is actually the one hurting you.

Olga Dies Dreaming intricately presents its flawed characters working through the meaning of cultural identity, family secrets, grief, and self-preservation. Their stories capture the ways in which we sometimes define ourselves by how others see us — to often painful ends.

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Member ratings (9,918)

  • Zuri B.

    Honolulu , HI

    This book will wake you up! There’s a little bit of every emotion weaved throughout the web of Olga’s life, planted firmly in this painfully colonized world and profoundly affected by a “radical” mom.

  • Jordynn H.

    Valley Park, MO

    Wow this book was amazing & I feel blessed to have read it! It’s got everything - mystery, betrayal, love, healing, family, & more! It’s also educational - I leaned so much that I didn’t know about PR

  • Audra W.

    Stafford, VA

    I fell in love with Gonzalez’s writing immediately. The story is heavily character-driven (which I don’t usually like). The characters and their stories are so rich that I didn’t want to stop reading.

  • MaryBeth M.

    Columbus, OH

    I adored Olga, her brother Pietro and their lives in Brooklyn. Great humor, great family drama, PR history, and growth out of parental (and sexual) trauma. One of the most uplifting books I’ve read ❤️

  • Sofia V.

    Chicago, IL

    Loved this book and the characters.❤️ One of the best books I’ve read in a long time! Really hit home with the PR storyline. Wish there has been more time spent on Olga & Matteo, but overall I loved!

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