I received an Advance Copy of this book. All opinions are my own.
Isa and Gala are best friends, twenty-one years old, and ready for a summer of adventure when they meet in New York City. They have a place to stay, a few connections, and just a little bit of money. Their summer is told through Isa’s diary and the story serves as a sort of documentation of youth, friendship, and risk. It is a sort of time capsule of their lives at this exact moment. We get a little bit of information about there past but not a lot and the story ends with quite a bit of ambiguity about their future. Is that not, after all, what it means to be twenty-one?
Isa and Gala live from moment to moment. They have barely enough money to survive in New York and because they’re not US citizens (they’re Canadian) they’re not able to work legally. They have ways of making money under the table and friends who help them when they get into tight spots. Some friends are more loyal than others and some are less friends and more people who want something in return. Isa and Gala’s friendship, too, is tested as the summer progresses. These girls are close though – the sort of closeness that, I would say, is unique to young women at this stage of life. I think of the friendships I had in my late teens and early twenties and there isn’t anything else quite like them. I’ve had deeper relationships since but there is an intimacy to their friendships that Granados captures beautiful here. It’s the shared clothes, the close quarters of rooming together, the nights at bars where you let your safety sit in the hands of your girlfriends. Isa and Gala disagree at times and fight but there is a solidity to their friendship that leaves the reader confident that they won’t drift too far apart.
Interactions and relationships with men are also a frequent topic throughout the summer. I appreciated that neither the novel nor Isa herself rely on men too heavily but instead detail multiple interactions, showing the vulnerabilities and excitements of being twenty-one and single. We see the different ways that Isa and Gala deal with the men around them and we get hints at the reasons for this in the small details of their past that Isa shares. There is, too, the fact that Isa is mixed race and seen as “exotic”. This isn’t a topic deeply delved into in the novel but it is an interesting one to ponder as we watch Isa navigate her way through New York and into adulthood.
This is a deceptively easy to read story. It has something of a “beach read” feel to it with its summer heat and party scenes. But there’s also plenty to think about and Granados does a good job of hinting at greater things behind the scenes. For me, entering into my late 30s, there was a certain nostalgia as I read these pages, tempered also with a thankfulness to have left the uncertainty of twenty-one behind me.