by Taleen Voskuni
January 31, 2023 Berkley
Sorry, Bro is a book about embracing the complicated aspects of different identities, and I had a lot of fun with the family dynamics, the sense of place (it’s set in San Francisco), and the Armenian culture. However, readers should be prepared for a heroine who is prone to rash, impulsive actions, and who is not great at communicating. My least favorite thing in romance is when people are terrible at communicating, so this was frustrating for me, but I liked the depictions of cultural and family dynamics.
Our story opens with the protagonist Nar, who narrates the book, being proposed to by her long-time boyfriend. These people have been together for five years, despite the fact that this boyfriend, Trevor, who is not Armenian, seems to dislike Armenian culture and openly mocks it.
Nar’s late father adored Trevor, and he seems to have seen his daughter’s dating Trevor as a positive in his pursuit of the idea of “Americanness.” He is also dead by the start of the book from a drunk driving accident in which he was the driver, which I will talk about more later on. Nar lives at home and works for a TV station. She is trying to break out as a journalist but is only given puff pieces to work on.
Nar and Trevor “go on a break” when she turns down the proposal and he goes overseas for a month to work. Nar still has the engagement ring and plans to have a more final break up with him when he gets back. Immediately after the failed proposal, Nar meets and falls in love with Erebuni, an Armenian-American woman who works at the Genocide Education Foundation, where she raises awareness of the Armenian Genocide, a historical event that took place in the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1923.
So, Nar and Erebuni begin to spend a lot of time together but wait! Nar is not out to anybody, because she doesn’t want her family to feel shame about her. The Armenian community, in Nar’s perception, is not supportive of bisexuality and she doesn’t want her mother to be embarrassed by toxic community judgment. Also Nar still has Trevor’s ring and hadn’t actually said “We’re breaking up” in so many words, and she didn’t tell Erebuni that she was engaged as recently as a week before they met.
Adding complications to her life: every time she pitches a story at work, her male boss takes her idea and assigns it to a male reporter, while dismissing her pitches about Armenian culture as a “snoozefest.” If Nar wants a chance at love and success, she will have to be honest with her family, her boss, her ex, Erebuni, and most of all herself.
I enjoyed the relationship between Nar and her mother, and Nar’s adventures with all the Armenian events. I loved that she realizes how important it is to engage with Armenian history as well as the history of her own family. I also enjoyed her relationship with her cousin Diana and with her Nene, her mother’s mother. The food and dancing are as fun as the history is painful, and it all creates a very lived-in feeling.
Nar and Erebuni had great chemistry. They seemed to truly enjoy being around one another. However, I found it difficult to feel sympathetic for Nar when Nar failed to communicate the most basic things to either Erebuni or Trevor. I have no sympathy to waste on Trevor, who is a piece of garbage, but it seems like somewhere around year one or two Nar might have made a clean break of things, given how deeply she dislikes him.
And with Erebuni, I wasn’t sure I wanted…
Erebuni and Nar to get back together after their inevitable big fight, because Nar holds the truth about a lot of things. She lies either explicitly or by omission to Trevor, Erebuni, her boss (not that he doesn’t deserve it), and her family.
In my opinion, Nar has a lot of work to do on herself before she can handle a relationship.
All of this is part of a pattern in which Nar feels shame about her Armenian roots, thanks to her father, and is unable to jettison a toxic but predictable situation for a risky but attractive one, whether in family, work, or life. I did feel sympathetic about this problem, but it was frustrating to read about.
As the plot is plotting along, we get to The Big Conflict, which is caused by Nar making a Bad Choice and also Keeping Secrets. I was flabbergasted by her decision to make a reckless, impulsive choice during an event that is supposed to be her professional breakthrough. Nar’s boss is sexist, racist, and bigoted, so of course I want Nar to get out from under his thumb, but I have a hard time picturing Nar as the serious journalist she wants to be when she acts so unprofessionally.
Another thing that hits a nerve with me is the frequent mentions of Nar’s father, an alcoholic who emotionally abused Nar’s mother. He adored Trevor because Trevor was not Armenian and he wanted the family to be fully assimilated into what he thought of as American culture. Nar, who adored her father and is only now realizing his flaws, brings up her father’s death in a drunk driving incident and his abuse of her mother several times, but I always felt like she winced away from fully dealing with it.
Maybe it’s because I recognized much of my own family dynamic in Nar’s family, but I felt like this was a huge issue that would realistically require a lot of time and therapy to unpack for Nar, especially since her father laid the groundwork for so many of her struggles as an adult – her need to keep the peace at all times, her fear of change, her protectiveness of her mother, her desire to appear ‘assimilated’, and I’d probably argue her shaky relationship with the truth as well. The damage that her father, and for that matter, her mother, did to her is never fully accounted for.
The book is narrated entirely by Nar, so we don’t get to know Erebuni very well, and she doesn’t go through a character arc. She seems wonderful – intelligent, passionate about her job, empathetic, kind, and grounded. She’s the same person at the beginning of the book as she is at the end.
But Nar is a person who, at twenty-seven, is just starting to come into herself. She is struggling to come to terms with her father’s actual behavior, with possibly exploring a new spirituality (she’s very drawn to Erebuni’s Wiccan practices), with her career ambitions, and with coming out as bisexual. She is even considering moving out of her mother’s house.
This is a powerful coming of age story, but it requires patience from the reader that I did not always have. Nar’s actions and her stated goals are too often in opposition, and she frequently undermines herself, then compounds her mistakes by making more of them. Her inability to get out of her own way was very frustrating. As a result, I didn’t fully believe in their happily ever after because I think Nar needs some more time to fully find herself before she’ll be ready for a relationship with someone as grounded and focused as Erebuni.