One Year of Ugly by Caroline Mackenzie
You know an author is talented when they can write a story about refugees that has you laughing out loud.
One Year of Ugly is wonderful mix of family drama, comedy, romance with a bit of a mob story thrown in just to make things interesting. Yola Palacio and her family have recently fled Venezuela and settled down in Trinidad for a better, safer life. They're illegal (but who isn't these days as Yola points out) and things are going well until the death of her Aunt Celia reveals that she owed a lot of money to a local criminal called Ugly, and he isn't going to let that debt disappear.
Yola's family quickly get caught up in the mob life as they begin housing illegal immigrants and working in a strip club to pay off Ugly. Surprisingly, they enjoy it. But things get challenging when Yola falls in love with Ugly's sidekick Roman and the two start up a very wild and secret romance.
The plot sounds ridiculous, but McKenzie pulls it off in her debut novel that is full of wit. Yola is an incredibly likeable character who has a close relationship with her family that you can’t help but envy. Although they fight and make fun of one another, there is a lot of love and a support which lead to some of the standout scenes including one where Yola gets quite drunk (and then hungover) with her father. No-one is phased by Ugly’s request, and it’s a bit of a shock to realise that this is because working for a mobster isn’t as bad as what they left behind in Venezuela. The brief moments where Yola mentions fleeing the country is a cleverly crafted way of getting you to think about the refugee experience and brings a bit of reality back into the story.
The author herself has said she wrote The Year of Ugly with humour as some things in life are just so terrible that you have to laugh, and this approach works well here. It’s this unique approach that makes The Year of Ugly such an enjoyable yet memorable read.
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