Book Review: “Olga Dies Dreaming” by Xochitl Gonzalez

The fact that Aubrey Plaza will play the title character in an upcoming Hulu adaptation of Xochitl Gonzalez’s debut novel Olga dies dreaming is the least interesting thing in the book.

Olga dies dreaming (Flatiron Books) is everything a novel should be and more. In 369 pages, Gonzalez subjects us to curiosity, grief, lust, intrigue and rage. What happens in this novel is realistic. In fact, many events are taken from real life. There are no forced happy endings here, just grown adults working through their trauma and learning to live with the hands that have been entrusted to them. But I’m moving forward.

Olga is a wedding planner in Brooklyn for the 1%. She spends her days acquiring expensive napkins, hosting entertainment, and catering to the ridiculous whims of her ultra-rich clients. And although his life seems organized on the outside, it really is far from it. Between facing her runaway mother who abandoned her family to fight for the liberation of Puerto Rico when Olga was just a child, and mourning her late father who died of HIV, Olga has a lot to do. Not to mention being there for his closeted congressman brother who finds himself constantly torn between doing the right thing for his constituents and maintaining his public image.

But Olga is able to keep her head above water until Hurricane Maria hits Puerto Rico and rocks her world. How do you deal with the devastation of a place that’s in your blood but not under your feet? Is family really everything? And when, if ever, is it okay to prioritize your own well-being when people are hurting?

Gonzalez does not take the task of writing about these complicated issues lightly. With every loaded question comes a loaded answer that’s flawlessly executed by intricate character development and a carefully crafted omniscient narrator. Gonzalez briefs his audience on PROMESA, Hurricane Maria, and Puerto Rico’s liberation issues in a way that isn’t blunt. Instead, it provides context and encourages readers to do their own research into how these events actually unfolded outside of the world of the book.

Perhaps most satisfying is how Gonzalez makes us sit in the discomfort of microaggressions, class disparity, and gentrification, but Olga and her family aren’t pitiful at all. In fact, they are complex humans who experience immense joy in the book as well as trauma. We celebrate their victories, we watch them show off for each other, and we laugh with them as they go through a tough world.

This debut is simply impressive. It’s informative, addictive and wonderfully engaging. I can’t wait to read more of Gonzalez and I wish Olgas happiness everywhere in the world.

Readers should be aware that this book includes sexual assault and violence.

This article originally appeared in the June 2022 issues of Little Village.

Angela C. Hale