Longtime fans of Nina LaCour’s teen novels will be enchanted by the quietly powerful Yerba Buena, her first book for adult readers. It unfolds without any fanfare through a series of intimate and brilliantly observed details about growing up and into yourself. From one seemingly ordinary scene to the next, the relentless momentum of our imperfect, chaotic lives pulses through LaCour’s prose.
At 16, Sara is desperate to flee her small hometown on Northern California’s Russian River and get far away from her difficult childhood, her drug-dealing father and memories of her dead mother. When her girlfriend dies suddenly, Sara seizes the first opportunity to run. Pushing aside the traumas of her past, she begins to make a life for herself in Los Angeles.
Emilie is an LA native struggling with more nebulous challenges. She’s not sure what she wants, so she flits from major to major in college, and then from job to job. She doesn’t feel at ease in her family, as she’s still grieving the loss of the closeness she used to share with her sister.
Emilie and Sara meet at a restaurant where Sara tends bar and Emilie arranges flowers. They spend one meaningful night together, but it’s a long time before they connect again.
Yerba Buena is not a simple romance. It’s a layered story about the process of learning to love yourself, of holding onto and letting go of painful history, and of building your own home. Along the way, LaCour captures all the aches and hurts and betrayals and sensual delights of being in your 20s. Emilie and Sara get tangled in messy relationships—romantic, platonic and familial. They make impulsive choices as well as smart ones. They yearn for each other, but they aren’t ready for each other, and so they return, again and again, to their own lives, tumbling forward, muddling through, making mistakes and starting again.
LaCour’s prose has a soft, flowing quality and a lushness that readers of her previous books will recognize. She’s adept at describing the things that matter most to her protagonists: the colors of a flower arrangement, the quality of light on a wooden floor, a facial expression, the taste of a beloved gumbo recipe. She’s even better at describing tumultuous emotional landscapes. Sara and Emilie are such fully realized characters that by the end of the novel, you will feel as though you’ve spent time with cherished friends.
Bursting with emotionally resonant moments and vivid details of LA neighborhoods, Yerba Buena is a remarkable story of queer love and childhood trauma, addiction and forgiveness, family legacies and new beginnings.