Nicole Dennis-Benn carefully unspools the stories behind each wound over the long course of this richly imagined novel, her second; their provenances emerge gradually, piece by piece, the way a person’s story of trauma emerges only with time and trust. Without giving those stories away, I’ll simply say that this subtle motif beautifully illustrates how the characters are connected to one another by love, desire and violence, and how they bear those histories permanently, both within and on their bodies. One of the novel’s finest achievements is how vividly and insistently the body shapes not just character but plot ... this is a story of self-made queer survival, with ample pleasure alongside the pain and sacrifice, and of severing familial ties in order to save one’s own life, no matter the cost ... Patsy weaves confidently through the characters’ physical and social worlds, but when it comes to Patsy’s emotional interiority, the prose occasionally goes overboard in conveying the potency of her feelings; these descriptions can feel excessive in scenes whose high stakes Dennis-Benn otherwise crafts so nimbly. This is a minor gripe for a novel that continually and subtly defies predictability as it tells a vital and remarkable life story ... Again and again, Patsy surprises and illuminates.
Admirers of Here Comes the Sun have waited three years for Dennis-Benn's followup, and anyone who was enchanted by her gorgeous writing are in for a happy surprise: Patsy isn't just as good as its predecessor, it's somehow even better ... Dennis-Benn packs a great deal of emotional power into Patsy, and does so successfully because she's not afraid to confront truths that many other authors might shy away from. There are plenty of novels that celebrate the mother-daughter bond, but not as many that delve into its absence ... Dennis-Benn portrays Patsy beautifully, with real compassion and no judgment ... also looks unflinchingly at the experience of undocumented immigrants in America, who are forced to deal with racism and poverty in the land they've always dreamed about ... benefits from Dennis-Benn's gorgeous writing — she has a strong narrative voice and a real gift for dialogue ... Dennis-Benn isn't just a compassionate writer, she's also a courageous one, unafraid to address topics that too often go ignored. And in Patsy and Tru, she's managed to create two unforgettable characters who function as real people and not literary archetypes. Dennis-Benn is quickly becoming an indispensable novelist, and Patsy is a brave, brilliant triumph of a book.
...stunning ... Though set in the past, the story and its reflections on borders and boundaries carry an urgent timeliness ... There have been few narrative epics that effectively tally the emotional, logistical, physical, psychological and financial trials of the black female immigrant and mother or, likewise, the impact on the family of a black woman who dares transform herself. Dennis-Benn maps the internal terrain of black women yearning to be free — without romanticizing or ignoring their flaws ... Patsy fills a literary void with compassion, complexity and tenderness.