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.
Dennis-Benn, in her novels, is unsparing in her scrutiny of love and the sacrifices—not the gauzy and selfless kind—that it can demand ... Yet for all the bleak determinism and brutality in Dennis-Benn’s fictional worlds, what stands out in Patsy is yearning—for opportunity, for pleasure, for connection, almost exclusively among women. That yearning, coexisting as it does within the cold-eyed realism of its setting, helps Dennis-Benn’s second novel strike a solemn balance between entrapment and escape ... Patsy is a portrait of black queer women grasping for self-determination, and a challenge to the conventions of what is expected of good mothers and good women and good immigrants. Tru’s inheritance from Patsy isn’t years of doting or gifts from America, but instead the permission to thrive in a society that will always threaten to crush her will and desire. In writing beautifully about that unending struggle, Dennis-Benn finds a way to extend to black girls and women some of the love that the world may never offer.