I fell in love with the cover of Dear Haiti, Love Alaine when I first saw it online last year. Thankfully, one of the authors, Maika Moulite, was kind enough to send me an ARC (advanced reader copy) when I met her at the Liberty City Reads Festival. I finished the book in just a few days, and there were so many things that I appreciated with this new YA novel.
Dear Haiti, Love Alaine is a book about a 17 year old Haitian American girl who is sent to live in Haiti after she gets in trouble at school. Alaine is sassy, smart, and sarcastic. Her mom is famous journalist Celeste Beauparlant (literally French for good speaker), and her dad is a doctor.
As an only child, Alaine spends more time with her dad while her mom is off with her successful career, something that Alaine resents. Alaine’s relationship with her mother is a major plot point in the novel. Alaine feels enstraged from her mother and struggles to build a relationship with her until tragedy strikes. Alaine also feels the same way about Haiti – when she hits rock bottom and is sent to live there, she discovers more about her ancestral land and family history.
The novel is an amalgamation of genres, media, and perspectives. There are letters, journal entries, Twitter threads, and text messages. Most of the book is in Alaine’s voice and narrates the story of how she is sent to Haiti after an act of revenge at school goes wrong. While in Haiti, Alaine has a chance to spend more time with her mother, learn about her family’s history, and try and reverse the family “curse.”
The book also gives readers a peek into Haitian history and folklore. There were pages of history about the Haitian revolution, which was interesting to read. The book also discusses how superstition rules Haitian life. There are spells, incantations, and prayers to ancestors. Since Alaine’s family is part of the Haitian upper class, there are descriptions of lavish parties and visits to Labadie, the private island near Cap Haitien. It was refreshing to read about the Haitian upper class life, since most narratives about Haiti include poverty and suffering.
Interestingly, the book also touched a bit on the Haitian practice of restaveks, or child slaves. Alaine’s mother, who comes from a wealthy Haitian family, grows up with Rosaline, an orphaned girl who is taken in by Celeste’s family and treated like a restavek. Rosaline becomes a key character towards the second half of the book, and I wish her backstory was explored more. The practice of wealthy families taking in poor or orphaned children as slaves is common in Haiti, and I think this could have been an opportunity to explore this topic a little more.
Overall, the novel provides much needed representation for the next generation of Haitian Americans. For many Haitians living in the diaspora, going back to Haiti is often a punishment that their parents threaten them with. But this book turns that idea on its head. What if going home meant learning about your family and your roots? What if it meant finding yourself?
When Alaine travels back to Haiti, she finds things that she doesn’t necessarily like. She learns the truth about her mother and unearths old family secrets. But by the end of the novel, she has a deep appreciation for her family, Haitian history, and her place within both. Dear Haiti, Love Alaine is a quick and entertaining read. It’s also a book full of surprises, love, and a little black girl magic.
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