Review: Open House by Ruby Lang (2019)

Uptown, Book 2

Review of Uptown, Book 1

Heat Factor: Holy awkward phone sex, batman!

Character Chemistry: That thing where he teaches her to have better self-esteem

Plot: Gentrification in Harlem makes our relationship complicated

Overall: This is mostly a sweet novella, but I HATED their dynamic

Let’s talk about our heroine, Magda Ferrer. She has a serious case of being hard on herself. 

  1. She has debt, so she must be a garbage person!
  2. She dropped out of a graduate program and also culinary school, so she must be a hot mess!
  3. She doesn’t really like her job – in fact, it seems to be eating away at her soul – but she can’t quit because she has to prove that she can finish something, otherwise she’ll never get her life together!

Look, she may have floundered a bit in her early twenties (but who hasn’t? Ask me about the doctorate I don’t use sometime), but she is way too hard on herself. And because she is hard on herself, she never stands up for herself. So her boss treats her like garbage and her family treats her like an incompetent child. She doesn’t seem to have any friends or a roommate (as a single twenty-something with tons of debt in Brooklyn???) or a community of any kind, because she is too busy constantly working and being miserable and feeling like she deserves the misery. 

Enter Ty. Magda meets Ty because she is given the thankless task of selling an empty lot to a developer – except the lot isn’t empty. Instead of a blight, it’s been repurposed into a community garden, full of too many zucchini and some prized tomatoes. Ty pretends like he’s not a member, but he spends every weekend turning compost. Naturally, Magda and Ty find themselves on opposing sides of the debate about what to do about this garden. 

What makes this book interesting is that Lang doesn’t make this fight easy or simple for either Ty or Magda. They are both complicit in the gentrification of the neighborhood, but also both invested in supporting the community that exists there. Magda doesn’t really want to see the garden destroyed, but she has to pay her rent. And Ty loves his neighborhood just the way it is right now – you know, now that he owns a condo with a brand new luxury kitchen. And the way the fight is resolved is satisfactory to all parties, including me. 

My problem with Open House stemmed from the dynamic that develops between Magda and Ty. Ty convinces Magda that she should stop being so hard on herself. A lot of people have debt – it’s the economy, not a moral failure. It’s great that Ty helps Magda be her best self, but in this case, Magda was a little too reliant on Ty to recognize the fact that she works hard and therefore deserves a modicum of respect. There’s also a lack of mutuality: Ty fixes Magda, but it doesn’t go the other way, which makes for an inherently unequal power dynamic. 

If a man teaching a woman to love herself annoys you less than it annoys me, you might enjoy this read. It’s short, charming, and thoughtful. The sex is poignant, because Ty and Magda just know that there’s no future for them, but also hot. And there’s a booth at a fundraiser selling dumplings of the world, which is really all I’ve ever wanted in life. 

I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.

Buy Now: Amazon

Looking for something similar? We have recommendations!

I love books set in NYC

I am very busy and important – novellas only, please and thank you (short stories also ok)

I like it when books are thoughtful

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