Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton
Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance
Maturity Level: 4
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Havana, 1958. The daughter of a sugar baron, nineteen-year-old Elisa Perez is part of Cuba’s high society, where she is largely sheltered from the country’s growing political unrest–until she embarks on a clandestine affair with a passionate revolutionary…
Miami, 2017. Freelance writer Marisol Ferrera grew up hearing romantic stories of Cuba from her late grandmother Elisa, who was forced to flee with her family during the revolution. Elisa’s last wish was for Marisol to scatter her ashes in the country of her birth.
Arriving in Havana, Marisol comes face-to-face with the contrast of Cuba’s tropical, timeless beauty and its perilous political climate. When more family history comes to light and Marisol finds herself attracted to a man with secrets of his own, she’ll need the lessons of her grandmother’s past to help her understand the true meaning of courage.
This was a lovely book with a beautiful story, however it lacked the effortlessness of my very favorite books.
My absolute favorite thing about Next Year in Havana was the setting of Cuba. I know very little about pre-revolutionary Cuba, and even less about modern Cuba. It gave the book an exotic and romantic feel, while also allowing it to be very educational. The Cuban setting also allowed for tensions between the characters to feel very organic, rather than as plot points. However, I felt I lacked the background knowledge of what Cuba looks like to enjoy this novel to its fullest. Next Year in Havana was as much about the experience of living in Cuba as it was about the story, but the descriptions (gorgeous as they were) weren’t quite descriptive enough to paint a picture for me, and I was unable to fill in the blanks with prior-knowledge like I’m used to doing.
As long as we’re talking about Cuba, I loved that Cleeton took the time to talk politics. However, she had a hard time balancing the political with the story line. At one point two characters were engaged in some lovely pillow talk when I suddenly found myself reading about income inequality! Jarring transitions like that in awkward places were not uncommon.
Both romances were breath-taking. While I’m not sure I believe in love at first sight, especially to the level written about in this book, reading about love at first sight and instant attraction is a captivating experience, and Cleeton wrote it beautifully. But the parallels drawn between the two romances were heavy handed. The stories were so similar that I did not need help connecting the threads, but a few times Cleeton even explicitly stated the similarities!
The pace of this book was nice. It read quickly but without hurrying, and there was just the right amount of plot twisting to keep me on my toes but to not get me rolling my eyes every time it happened. However, a few of the twists did feel like they cheapened things that had happened earlier in the books, to me.
In summary, I really liked Next Year in Havana. A lot. It was lovely, and I think it would make a fantastic movie and an even better mini-series. But it’s by no means the book of the decade.