Olga Dies Dreaming is a debut novel, getting a ton of buzz in library circles. Set in 2017 Brooklyn, our main characters are Olga, a wedding planner to the very rich, and her brother, Prieto, who represents their largely Puerto Rican (but gentrifying) neighborhood in Congress. But hovering over every page is their mother, Blanca. Blanca was a radical in the Young Lords, who abandoned her school-aged children to be a militant activist all over Central and South America. This abandonment fundamentally shaped both Olga and Prieto; the conflict between the siblings and their absent (but still watchful and meddlesome) mother drives shape of the book.
It took me some time both to warm up to Olga and to get a grasp on how the story was presented. Olga’s business is successful, but she is starting to feel that her ambition is hollow. She’s also unashamedly fleecing her clients (for whom one feels no sympathy). Early in the book, Olga meets cute with Matteo, and surprises herself by letting what she thought was a one night stand start turn into something more meaningful. Prieto, for his part, is the world’s biggest people-pleaser, needing everyone around him to believe his life is perfect, but with a genuine desire to help the people he represents. He’s also been harboring a number of secrets, some of which are more surprising than others. As we learn more about Olga and Prieto, we also start to get some backstory, in the form of letters written by their mother, attempting to guide the course of their lives. When Hurricane Maria strikes Puerto Rico, Olga and Prieto both face a reckoning, with their mother, each other, and themselves.
The more distance I get from this book, the more impressed I am. Olga is such an engaging protagonist. She is deeply, deeply damaged, but we learn about her damage at the same time as we learn about her incredible strength and resiliency. I didn’t connect with Prieto in quite the same way, but I love the relationship between him and Olga. This is a story about family and found family, reconciling with your own truth and conscience, and choosing to prioritize the things in your life that are most important. Highly recommend!