Yerba Buena by Nina LaCour – Review
By Sandra Callard
Author Nina Lacour has produced a new novel of great technical prowess, but also one which is often confusing, maddening and time consuming. Set somewhere in America, Yerba Buena is, very basically, a tale of the difficulties of a young girl, Sara, when she runs away from home after the death by drowning of her friend and lover, also a very young girl.
She takes a friend with her, a boy she knows well, who is also very young but has a car. They have a few disturbing events on the way, but seem to cope reasonably well for such young people. At only 14 Sara is still very much a child but the novel reads as if she is much older.
She eventually arrives in Los Angeles and finds work at the café Yerba Buena, where she cooks her own dishes she remembers from her childhood and is very successful, although she is still suffering mentally from the terrible death of her friend, Annie. However, she still manages to find a home, make friends, and make some money.
Also working at Yerba Buena is Emilie and the two girls feel an instant attraction. How these two women find and lose each other over the years is basically the crux of the plot. The problem for this reader is their relationship arc is signposted and therefore lacks the requisite tension.
The story obviously concerns the sex life of young girls with each other, but the author has without doubt treated this with caution and respect and it is never in any sense gratuitous or with a sense of shock.
A strange thing about the book is that the vanishing from home of a 14-year-old girl did not seem to have any effect on either her family or the people she became embroiled with when she arrived in Los Angeles. There was never any indication that she would be questioned by the authorities, or even by the people she worked for, and the fact that this was simply ignored throughout the story did not ring true to me. Could it be that it was so prevalent in the United States that a young girl could simply lose herself and appear again where she chose with no questions asked.
However, this is a novel, and not real life, so does it really matter?
Yerba Buena certainly has some good characters which are very well defined, and who slip easily into the individual traits they are meant to acquire. The story, however, has to tread a very tangled path before any resolution is reached, and this can make for some tedious reading. I cannot say that I enjoyed the book, but the exploration of American life was skilfully done, and it is beautifully composed.
I am aware that the author, Nina Lacour, is highly regarded in America, but the comment given on the cover of the book that “This book is a precious thing ” is way off the mark.
‘Yerba Buena’ by Nina LaCour is published by Coronet, £18.99 hardback