Review-One Year of Ugly by Caroline MacKenzie

This review is of what I believe is a pre-final-edited-version of this book provided to me by Simon and Schuster via Net Galley. The book is set to be released July 14, 2020.

One Year of Ugly takes readers on a riotous ride of family and romantic drama. Twenty-four-year-old Yola Palacio and her family are middle-class Venezuelans living illegally in Trinidad and thrown into a situation involving a criminal who goes by the name Ugly. Ugly takes advantage of the Palacio’s precarious position as illegals and blackmails them into supporting his criminal activities. In the story that unfolds, Yola struggles with a forbidden love interest and discovers that there is more to the people in her family, and more to life in general than she thought. Her family grows closer, mature, and emerge at the other end of this personal crisis scarred, transformed, but somewhat in tact.

Although the book portrays the family’s plight in a humorous tone and some of the events which take place may seem implausible, MacKenzie treats the idea of displacement and the trauma involved in living in constant uncertainty very thoroughly. She does not spare her characters from physical, mental, or emotional harm. Instead, she takes them on a journey with increasingly tougher challenges to overcome until they get to a point where they lose almost everything they cherish.

In One Year of Ugly, we meet a wide swath of Venezuelan characters who serve to humanize the many reasons people may choose to risk their lives by leaving their homes. I do not know enough about the Venezuelan community in Trinidad and Tobago and so I cannot comment on the the accuracy of their portrayal, however, Yola discusses all the groups she encounters, Venezuelan, Trinidadian, and sub-cultures of these nationalities with an equal sprinkling of stereotyping, and perhaps it is understandable given Yola’s controversial situation, that she would see Trinidadians (like the author) in a homogeneously negative light.

The treatment of the sex workers – yes, there are multiple sex workers in the story – seemed naive. Yola’s final assessment of their situation seemed to ignore a number of important truths about exploitation in that industry and readers may struggle to see this as Yola’s point-of-view and not the author’s.

When the situation comes to a nail-biting head, the description of the action is precise, The improbabilities of the plot increase, but MacKenzie avoids a neatly-wrapped up ending. She leaves the reader with a lot to think about and speculate about where the family will find themselves next.

I enjoyed the time I spent with the Palacios and would definitely read more about Yola if she showed up in a sequel.

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