This Side Of Providence – Rachel M. Harper
Arcelia Perez fled Puerto Rico to escape a failed marriage and a history of abuse, but instead of finding her piece of the American dream, she ends up on the wrong side of Providence. With three young children, Arcelia follows a rocky path that ultimately leads to prison and an agonizing drug withdrawal. But her real challenge comes when she’s released and must figure out how to stay clean and reunite the family that has unraveled in her absence.
Through rotating narrators, we hear from the characters whose lives and futures are inextricably linked with Arcelia’s own uncertain fate: her charming, street-savvy son, Cristo, and brilliant daughter Luz; their idealistic teacher, Miss Valentín, who battles her own demons; and the enigmatic Snowman, her landlord and confidante.
Review: This review might be a little different from my normal reviews because I usually stay far away from stories about drug addicts. I’ve put up with more than enough crap from addicts in my real life. I don’t need fictional drug addicts in my world, too. I also have a hard time being impartial about addiction books. Sometimes the plots and characters get too close to my real life, and then I start loathing the book for bizarre reasons that actually have nothing to do with the book. So, usually it’s best for me to stay in my happy bubble and pretend that fictional addicts don’t exist.
Why did I put myself through reading this? I wanted to read This Side of Providence because I read the author’s other book, Brass Ankle Blues, last year. I loved the unflinching realism and the attention to detail. Luckily for me, those elements are also present in this book.
This Side of Providence follows a group of people who are living in poverty in Providence, Rhode Island. Arcelia, a Puerto Rican immigrant, is trying to raise her three children while battling a drug addiction. Miss Valentín, a teacher, is concerned that Arcelia’s oldest son, Cristo, is following in his mother’s footsteps. Meanwhile, Snowman—a black man with albinism—is trying to make a difference in a world that doesn’t understand him.
The story is told by rotating first-person narrators. Usually, I have problems with books that have multiple first-person points-of-view because the narrators can sound too similar. But, the narrators in this book are handled brilliantly. They are each very distinct, with different voices, different problems, different hopes for the future. Even though none of the characters are complete “good guys,” I love them all, and there are no POVs that I disliked reading.
Cristo is my favorite character because I can relate to him on a personal level. We’ve been through a lot of the same crap. My situation was never as dire as his, but I still feel like I understand him. He’s so desperate for his mother to get better that he overlooks dangerous warning signs. This is heartbreaking because he’s a child and shouldn’t be taking care of his mother. He’s forced to make difficult choices, and I have complete respect for the decision he makes at the end of the book. I actually had to make the same decision in my life, but I was much older than him when I made it. Addiction is hard on the family of the addict. I kept getting eerie déjà vu feelings from Cristo’s storyline because I’ve been there, done that.
Rachel M. Harper is good at getting into the minds of her characters. They’ll intrigue you, give you hope, and break your heart at the same time.
Despite my reservations about this book, I’m glad I read it. The writing style is vivid and gritty. The dark side of Providence pulled me in and kept me hooked. This is one of those books that I was still thinking about long after I finished it. If you can handle the difficult subject, I’d highly recommend reading this one.