Greta & Valdin by Rebecca K. Reilly: book review

Greta & Valdin by Rebecca K. Reilly

Overview: Greta and Valdin are siblings in their late twenties in New Zealand. They share an apartment and are each other's support system. Valdin is reeling in the aftermath of his break-up with a much older man and adjusting to a major career change from physics to hosting a travel show. Greta is finding herself and panicking about how she'll ever make enough money to live with her Russian and English literature masters degree. Zooming further out, they're surrounded by a large and chaotic family. An older brother who has a teenage son and a young daughter who has no filter. A Maaori mother and Russian immigrant father. A gay uncle and his shipping magnate partner whose brother happens to be Valdin's ex. They're a tight knit bunch but full of tangles as they're trying to figure out how to live, laugh, love in these conditions. Overall: 4.5 

Characters: 5 Most of the book alternates between Valdin and Greta's perspective in the most voicey first person possible. They jump off the page and invite you for a ride in their unique brains full of quirky details and asides that prove to be rabbit holes worth going down. It is the characters that make this book, and they are endlessly rich. Because each of these characters, including even the most minor ones, are so realistic and lively, it's hard to do them justice in review form. You simply have to meet Greta and Valdin and their family and let yourself be immersed in their world. 

This is a book that will make you want to call your sibling or mom or dad and tell them you love and appreciate them.

Plot: 4 This story has a clear beating heart that drives it forward, and that's all the plot I personally require. The way I view this book in retrospect is that it's about two things: romantic love and familial love. This is not immediately evident as you're reading. It sort of feels like you're just along for a very entertaining slice of life journey that's not necessarily heading anywhere. Looking back, though, we watch both Greta and Valdin run on parallel tracks around the two subjects. The family thread became apparent to me much faster, and I originally thought this was simply a book about the deep value of family and a reminder that through disagreements, family secrets, and messiness, they're some of the the deepest possible bonds and should be valued as such. And this is true, but it's more of a theme of the story overall than an actual plot thread. 

In Valdin's part of the story, he is delving deeper into definitions of family, what it takes to build your own, and what it means to be a parent. He wants to learn about his family's past, and he also wants to get to know his family members in new capacities now that they're all firmly adults. In love, he's navigating whether you can find your way back to your "right person, wrong time" love and if you can make love work around life. 

Greta is learning her own lessons around these subjects as the book progresses. She starts the book still grappling with her sexuality and tying up her self-worth in romantic relationships or flings. Greta has to learn how to be a good partner when life drops the right relationship in your lap, and she learns to grow into her relationship and herself simultaneously. With family, Greta is learning the often distressing truth that even when you feel like you know everything there is to know about your family that there are still secrets you might accidentally stumble upon, and often, your parents are more complex than your original view of them. 

Writing: 4 This book brought me so much joy. Reading it was like drinking a hot chocolate on a freezing day and feeling the warmth slowly flow through your body. The book tackles serious topics like racism in New Zealand and homophobia in a significant way but weaves them within happy, goofy moments and touching ones and the mundane ones, just as they occur in life. The amount of detail effortlessly delivered and the vibrancy around every single character shows so much skill. I thoroughly enjoyed my time reading this book, and I would love to see more books from New Zealand published in the US! Hopefully Greta and Valdin's utter explosion on bookstagram will send a signal to publishers that there is a real appetite.

I understand the Normal People comp for generating hype, but fair warning, the style of the two books could not be more different. Normal People cultivates a pretty significant narrative distance between the characters and the reader whereas Greta and Valdin is hyper close. I love both books, but they approach certain similar ideas in vastly different ways.

More on Reading, Writing, and Me: 

Good Materials review

20 Questions Book Tag 

Because Internet: nonfiction review

Martyr! review


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