Romance is an escape — that’s the point. It’s one of my favorite ways to chill myself out when I am getting a little too high strung for my own good, but even then, I tend to find myself reaching for the ones filled with angst. Blame it on a lifetime of reading fanfiction (who among us has not felt the thrill of searching exclusively through the hurt/comfort tag?), or perhaps it’s something I should flag for discussion with my therapist. Either way, taking a break from my usual world, and stumbling into the light and charming Sorry, Bro by Taleen Voskuni was an unexpected delight.
After Nareh Bedrossian’s boyfriend proposes to her in a crowded bar of drunk tech bros, she does what anyone with a head on their shoulders would do — faints, and upon recovering, says no. Not only was the proposal a horrifying misread of everything Nareh would want, it’s the final domino in a long line of tiny little things that have made her realize this is not the life she wants for herself.
This is news that is thrilling to her Armenian mother, who has Facebook stalked every available Armenian man in a 100 mile radius and created a spreadsheet of potential suitors for her daughter. Nareh is bisexual, but she isn’t ready to deal with the repercussions of coming out to her family, and she does want to make her mother happy. Plus, one thing she’s learned from dating a non-Armenian guy for so long is that her culture is more important to her than she realized. Thankfully, Explore Armenia, a month long series of events in the city is just beginning, and it seems like the perfect way to meet some dudes to keep her mom happy and reconnect with the heritage that she has been missing. Oh, but if it were only that easy. Or if Erebuni, a hot, witchy member of the Explore Armenia committee wasn’t so damn appealing. But of course she is, and yes, you know exactly how this goes!
Despite my love of fanfic, sometimes books written in first person present tense don’t always work for me, and it’s no fault of theirs, I think my brain slots that style into a different space, which can make it hard to connect. But Voskuni’s writing is gorgeous, in a simple, unaffected way that never fails to make me jealous. Like this moment, after Erebuni texts Nareh for the first time:
“I cup my phone in my hand like I would a fallen petal, inspecting the message. Everything outside is grayish white with fog, washed over in one color, but here in the car I’m glowing.”
Reading this book feels just like that, all swept up in the hazy, thrilling possibility of doing something for yourself, in trusting what you want.
For me, the best part of this book is how beautifully realized Nareh’s family life is. You understand why she lets her mother run so much of her life and why she is so intent on impressing everyone around her. So much of it is from the roles we place ourselves in when we are around our family, but so much more if it is about the deep family ties in Armenian culture.
I always love reading novels that are centered in other cultures and experiences, and I love that Nareh’s Armenian-ness is central to what happens in the story, and the people that surround her. I do wish that authors didn’t feel like they needed to explain every detail and non-English word when exploring any culture that is not American, but I understand why it happens. Your personal mileage may vary, but I actually like looking things up I don’t immediately know, or using context clues to figure out what’s happening. Sorry, Bro is a little heavy on the explanatory commas at the start, but once we get into the meat of the story, they occur less and less, allowing us to focus on the giddy chemistry building between Nareh and Erebuni. I would not have been opposed to letting us see a little more of the coming together of that chemistry, because well, I love smut! Sorry, Bro falls squarely into the “closed doorwp_postsgenre of romance, meaning sexy time takes place off the page. And if that’s your thing, great! If you are like me, a freak for smut, just know that’s not energy here and set your expectations accordingly!
Mostly though, if you find yourself needing a bit of sweetness and charm in these early, dreary months of the year, Sorry, Bro is a perfect pick me up. It understands what it feels like to be stuck, in so many ways—career, life, relationships with family, and how we can learn to fan that little flame within ourselves without losing everyone around us in the process. Who doesn’t need a reminder of that?