The two protagonists in Open House by Ruby Lang approach each other from opposite sides of an illegal community garden in Harlem — she is the real estate agent tasked with selling the land, and he is the organizer of the garden. This book is all about “community” — finding your own, creating your own, and appreciating what you have.
Magda Ferrer is an Afro-Latina living in Brooklyn. She is riddled with student debt from various attempts at finding out what she might enjoy doing in life. She finally halts her ventures and takes stock of life. The debts are crushing and need to be dealt with, which means she has to get a job. Doing real estate appeals to her sense of helping people find their community. In a fit of affection, her uncle by marriage gives her his historic townhome in Harlem to sell. In addition, her boss wants her to find a buyer for what used to be a vacant lot — the seller finally wants to get rid of it. Magda is determined to tackle these two tasks with everything she’s got and make a success of her fledgling career. But fate is capricious.
Tyson “Ty” Yang is a Taiwanese-American accountant living in Harlem and the jack-of-all-trades at the 136th Street Community Garden AKA the vacant lot that the old ladies of the neighborhood have rescued from rats, broken glass, needles and all the detritus of NYC — and are illegally squatting on. He claims that he doesn’t want to be tied down to the land and has no vested interest in the garden other than helping out.
It was interesting to see how Magda and Ty fit into their families and how that has informed on what they think of themselves. It was also interesting to see how differently each perceives the other and how they grow in confidence from this new look at themselves. This is the essence of romance: A person growing into their better self because someone sees them as worth much more than they’d previously thought. Lang has done an excellent job of showing how they build each other up and how romantic both of them find that.
Ty sees Magda as dedicated and capable of taking on a task and finishing it. She thinks she’s a screw-up because she has flitted from career to career. Magda sees Ty as a passionate supporter of the garden and the old ladies who work in there — they are his friends; they trust him; and their passion has become his passion. Ty, on the other hand, sees himself as a footloose, fancy-free person with no roots and no cares. Seeing themselves from the other’s lens is the making of them.
Lang writes with warmth and affection — affection for the story and affection for her characters. They are good, dedicated people, who are deciding what is important in life for themselves. I really liked that even at thirty, her characters are discovering who they are. Life is an enquiry no matter your age. If you are in a continual state of evaluation of what your priorities are at each point in your life, you make for yourself a life worth living and enjoying. This is what draws Ty and Magda together in addition to the attraction and other qualities — the ability to identify what is important in life and to ask for it. If you do not make yourself vulnerable and put yourself out there, happiness may never find you. That scene where they open up to each other is worth reading the entire book for.
This was my first book by Lang, and I am already anticipating her February book House Rules, the third book in her Uptown series.