Dear Haiti, Love Alaine by Maika and Maritza Moulite
Trigger Warning: Death, Parent with dementia
After a school presentation goes drastically awry, Alaine is shipped to Haiti to spend quality time with her aunt and her estranged mother, also newly exiled to the country of her birth after her own outburst. But there are secrets in Haiti that Alaine can’t help but unravel, secrets that dip into the past and extend into the future. And she’s going to find them out.
Where do I start with this review?
There is just soooo much that was packed into this book: Haitian history, politics, corruption here, there and everywhere, family, family love, dementia, conspiracy, family curses, betrayal, fake pig’s blood, snark, estranged family, racism, high school, colorism, embezzlement, sexism, baking, and that’s just the highlights!
At times it was a bit overwhelming to read all of the different threads and subplots woven through the book, but I’m happy to note that most everything is managed to be nicely resolved—or at least set on a good course—by the end. Because for a while there I was like, “whoa this is messy.”
But life is messy and complicated, and so is this book.
Alaine is a wonderful and wonderfully frustrating main character, because she’s very confident and, like a confident teenager, tends to not really think through her actions to find fault in herself. It was fun to read, but also like, you done fucked up, just own it already. Anywho, it was refreshing to read someone who was no snarky or sassy for snark’s sake, but because it was intrinsically who they were as a person, and to have a YA character act like a teen.
Alaine is not perfect.
She makes mistakes. Big ones.
But she learns and grows and grieves and learns that moving on and accepting and finding new paths is the only way forward.
I loved reading about Haiti and Haitian culture and history, mostly because I’d never though about it before other than thinking about how impoverished Haiti is (and also of the devastating earthquake, but that’s mainly because that was all that was on the news and because my unit sent Marines down there to support the clean-up efforts).
But this book is about highlighting how the stereotypes of Haiti aren’t the full story. That the country has had a long and storied history as the first country to free itself of colonialist slavery and rise up. That it’s working on breaking free of the stereotypes and raising its people up. That the United States and its “relief actions” might help the impoverished and hungry, but tend to cause ripple effects that ruin Haitian small business owners, farmers and other people by making Haiti dependent upon outside support instead of being able to stand on its own feet and thrive. So being helped by being fed, but having one leg knocked out from under them while getting food. You can survive, but you can’t do it by yourself anymore.
I also did like that the drastic dichotomy of haves and have-nots in Haiti was mentioned. It’s not all poverty. There is an elite in Haiti who have many things, and there are the ritzy tourist beaches in Haiti that focus on the natural beauty of the country instead of the crushing poverty elsewhere.
Enough on Haiti.
The characters were also vibrant, alive and fantastic. I loved Alaine’s father, who took on the challenge of being a single dad and professor and was damned good at it. And even Celeste, the driven career woman who set aside her own life and personal happiness for her ambition and drive as a journalist (I love how this was portrayed, and how the double standards between career-focused woman and career-focused men, particularly women of color, was shown). And Tati Estelle, who I was on the fence about because I knew in my gut that something just wasn’t right with PatronPal, because c’mon—how often do these types of things turn out to be scams?? (this is not really a spoiler, but perhaps some misdirection)—but who I ended up loving for her own snark and sense of humor in handling Alaine’s all-directions-all-the-time-questions-and-thought-process.
Anywho, to sum up: there’s a lot going on in this book, making it at times feel disconnected. Like, is it going to focus on the struggles of being a smart, outspoken Black girl in America? Or will it focus on solving the family curse? Are we centered on family and dealing with a devastating chronic disease, or are we focused on being an intern at a thriving nonprofit? Are we going internally on character and family dynamics, or the entire history and political climate in Haiti? Are we doing American or Haitian politics?
But for all of the lack of focus, Alaine’s voice shines through and carries the narrative thread. With her connecting these often disparate pieces, the book ends nicely and kept me very interested throughout.
Even if it does turn out to end in the tropiest of tropes: as being a school assignment (also not a spoiler).
I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review, but listened to the audiobook from the library, which is narrated by the amazing Bahni Turpin (seriously, listen to her work! She’s my favorite narrator).
Dear Haiti, Love Alaine was released September 3, 2019 from Inkyard Press