Back in December, my boss asked me if I’d be interested in running an event with Deeba. When he first handed me the book, I was a bit skeptical, mostly because I still struggle to read book about grandmothers. But ultimately I said yes, and I’m so glad I did.
From the publisher marketing:
Taking inspiration from the author’s own Afghan-Uzbek heritage, this contemporary YA debut is a breathtaking journey into the grief that lingers through generations of immigrant families, and what it means to confront the ghosts of your past.
Struggling to deal with the pain of her parents’ impending divorce, fifteen-year-old Sara is facing a world of unknowns and uncertainties. Unfortunately, the one person she could always lean on when things got hard, her beloved Bibi Jan, has become a mere echo of the grandmother she once was. And so Sara retreats into the family business, hoping a summer working on her mom’s latest home renovation project will provide a distraction from her fracturing world.
But the house holds more than plaster and stone. It holds secrets that have her clinging desperately to the memories of her old life. Secrets that only her Bibi Jan could have untangled. Secrets Sara is powerless to ignore as the dark truths of her family’s history rise in ghostly apparitions — and with it, the realization that as much as she wants to hold onto her old life, nothing will ever be the same.
Told in lush, sweeping prose, this story of secrets, summer, and family sacrifice will chill you to the bone as the house that wraps Sara in warmth of her past becomes the one thing she cannot escape…
I listened to House of Yesterday so that I could have it done by the time of the event, and I was so glad I did. I know I’ve said it time and again, but I’m generally not a fan of contemporary YA anymore and first person annoys me to no end. But. As House of Yesterday reminded me, I shouldn’t write off an entire chunk of books because of a few bad experiences. House of Yesterday, as the synopsis indicates, has a lot of things going on and it is, to some extent, semi-autobiographical. I bonded with Deeba over our similar adolescence – my own parents got divorced, my dad is a contractor who would frequently be building and flipping houses, my grandfather had dementia and my grandmother was my best friend. There was a lot of House of Yesterday that I could very much relate to, including the character’s name.
The main character of House of Yesterday is named Sara. As a Sarah, I tend to always get a little snarky about a lack of an “H” but I have never before been so disinclined to comment on the spelling of my name. First, I feel like I’ve been pronouncing my name incorrectly for my entire life. It’s so Western, so harsh, not in keeping with its Middle Eastern roots. If I could soften my “R”s and roll them, I’d never say my name the same way ever again. I’ve found a whole new appreciation for my overly common name. The character is named after her grandmother, who in turn is named after Deeba’s grandmother. As a fellow young woman who had an extremely close relationship with her grandmother, how could I be facetious about the name?
Sara’s relationship with her grandmother, as well as her own unresolved feelings of grief and fear drive the story in House of Yesterday. Set over the course of a summer, Sara discovers a great deal about her family and past through the ghosts of the house she is in. It pulls her in and grabs her attention (in more ways than one) in ways that the real world is not. She’s retreating into her own mind in order to escape the world around her. Her family and friends attempt to pull her out of the spiral but with little success until it seems it might be too late.
It’s not quite a thriller, not quite a ghost story, not quite a love story, not quite a coming of age story, not quite a lot of things. But it is a powerful exploration of a young girl’s struggle to adjust to the constantly changing world around her. Nothing is ever really fully resolved, but that’s life, right? Life is messy, life is uncertain, life isn’t clear cut with a beginning, middle and end. And in House of Yesterday, we’re treated to a slice of Sara’s life, a significant slice of time, a slice that makes me love her as a character and hope that she has found, in her own world, a bit of comfort in knowing that her story doesn’t end.
Rating: 10 out of 10