Behold the Dreamers opens unlike most novels. (A good reason why “rules” are made to be broken.) Everything in Jende’s world is good, make that great. He immigrated to the US from Cameroon with the help of his cousin, found a small but decent apartment in Harlem and saved every penny to bring his wife and son to the US. Now he has landed a terrific job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a big executive, and his family.

We can almost hear the ominous music begin to play in the background because we know something these characters don’t know. The year is 2007 and Clark Edwards works for Lehman Brothers, one of the banks responsible for the recession.

Imbolo Mbue delicately weaves the the threads of these characters. We understand their deepest desires and what they are willing to do to get it. Then she continues to put roadblocks in their paths and doesn’t let them off the hook — Jende’s work visa expires, Neni has taken time off from her nursing program to care for their child, Clark knows the company’s policies are suspect but can’t get anyone to listen to him. As circumstances become more dire, they begin to unravel, showing the ugliest sides of themselves, and it becomes easy to see how these characters (and people in general) react poorly when they are in despair and desperate.

Mbue allows the characters to experience a full range of emotions with spot on dialogue and sharp narrative. This author is in control of the story. For example Neni, who has come into her own in New York, is struck by the “fact that she had traveled to America only to be reminded of how powerless she was, how unfair life could be.

There are no false notes throughout the entire novel, but nowhere is that truer than in the ending. Nothing is manufactured or forced just so the reader can walk away feeling upbeat. That said, I didn’t find this to be a depressing story. I found it poignant to get to know these characters who aspire to be good people and when they fall short of that, always rooting for them to do the right thing.

Five hearts for this one. ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

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