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Yerba Buena by Nina LaCour
Literary fiction

Yerba Buena

Early Release

This is an early release that's only available to our members—the rest of the world has to wait to read it.

by Nina LaCour

Excellent choice

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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, Icon_Romance


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_SlowRead

    Slow build

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_LGBTQ

    LGBTQ+ themes

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Sad



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.

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Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of Yerba Buena.
Yerba Buena


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.

It struck Sara every time—the way the air changed as she entered the forest. Cool, wet, fresh dirt, even bright days like this one dimming and softening. “Should we get a map?” Annie asked, but Sara shook her head. She knew the woods well, had no trouble getting lost or finding her way back.

She took Annie’s hand and led her past the station. A group of tourists brushed by them, their faces upturned. It felt good to feel small. That’s why her mother had taken her here when she was a little girl, why Sara kept coming after her mother died.

They cut onto Sara’s favorite trail—the steepest, the quietest—and hiked until they were breathless, eye level with the ancient redwoods’ branches, as close as they could be to the sky.

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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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Member ratings (7,359)


    Culver City, CA

    the writing of this book is amazing. i loved how sara and emilie came together & grew apart. their story felt real and tragic. it’s a beautiful book and not for the faint of heart. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5/5

  • Maggie S.

    Topeka, KS

    A beautifully written book & maybe the most perfect ending I’ve ever read— I was in tears. Emilie and Sara’s journeys, their growth as individuals, and how their stories intertwined were captivating.

  • Shardae A.

    Dayton, OH

    I haven’t read Nina LaCour since high school, her novel “Hold Still”. This was such a beautiful reunion for me! LaCour is an expert on writing how we process emotions as humans. Such a beautiful book.

  • Erica B.

    Chicago, IL

    Such a good one!! I’m not usually much of a romance novel lady, but I had a feeling I’d love it. It was sweet and real and a little heart breaking, but all in the right ways. I’d definitely recommend!

  • Ashley T.

    Pine Hill, NJ

    This was a Nina’s first adult novel and she hit it out of the park. I couldn’t put it down. It was so amazing, emotional and transformative. I saw myself in the pages and so much more. So well written

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