Spotlight on “Flores and Miss Paula” by Melissa Rivero

by LitStack Editor

Flores and Miss Paula is a wry, tender novel about a Peruvian immigrant mother and a millennial daughter who have one final chance to find common ground

Flores and Miss Paula and author Melissa Rivero

About Flores and Miss Paula

Thirtysomething Flores and her mother, Paula, still live in the same Brooklyn apartment, but that may be the only thing they have in common. It’s been nearly three years since they lost beloved husband and father Martín, who had always been the bridge between them. One day, cleaning beneath his urn, Flores discovers a note written in her mother’s handwriting: Perdóname si te falle. Recuerda que siempre te quise. (“Forgive me if I failed you. Remember that I always loved you.”) But what would Paula need forgiveness for?

Now newfound doubts and old memories come flooding in, complicating each woman’s efforts to carve out a good life for herself—and to support the other in the same. Paula thinks Flores should spend her evenings meeting a future husband, not crunching numbers for a floundering aquarium startup. Flores wishes Paula would ask for a raise at her DollaBills retail job, or at least find a best friend who isn’t a married man.

When Flores and Paula learn they will be forced to move, they must finally confront their complicated past—and decide whether they share the same dreams for the future. Spirited and warm-hearted, Melissa Rivero’s new novel showcases the complexities of the mother-daughter bond with fresh insight and empathy.

Editorial Reviews for Flores and Miss Paula

Publishers Weekly

A Peruvian immigrant and her 30-something daughter struggle to get along while sharing a Brooklyn apartment in Rivero’s heart-rending latest (after The Affairs of the Falcóns). At the outset, Flores discovers a cryptic note from her beloved late father Martin (“Forgive me, if I failed you”) tucked beneath the wooden urn holding his ashes. 

She’d love to uncover the meaning of the note, but is preoccupied by her finance job at the Bowl, an app startup with revenue problems founded by a college friend. Meanwhile, Flores’s mother, Paula, has just marked her two-year anniversary at the dollar store where she’s worked since the death of her husband from cancer, and pines for Vicente, a married man and fellow Peruvian. 

Flores questions her mother’s friendship with Vicente as much as Paula bemoans her daughter’s long hours spent in the office, wishing Flores would devote herself to finding a husband. Before Paula works up to sharing the truth about Martin, Rivero mixes up a stew of drama. First, office politics draw Flores into unexpected predicaments at the Bowl, where she’s caught between the managers’ competing visions. 

Later, Paula falls and hurts her arm after unexpectedly encountering Vicente with his wife. It all hangs together nicely, setting the stage for a surprisingly moving conclusion. This is a treat. Agent: Julia Kardon, Hannigan Getzler Literary. (Dec.)

Kirkus Reviews

In gentrifying Brooklyn, a mother and daughter grapple with the death of their small family’s patriarch and the ways his death causes them to reconsider their lives and values.

Three years after the death of 33-year-old Mónica Flores’ father, Martín, Mónica finds a small piece of paper tucked under his urn in the Brooklyn home she shares with her 63-year-old mother, Paula. In Paula’s handwriting, the paper reads: “Forgive me if I failed you. Remember that I always loved you.” 

This discovery—which Mónica keeps secret, despite her shock at its message—sets up the stilted relationship between mother and daughter and their navigation of grief and regret. Mónica (a.k.a. Flores, the name she adopted at work) is overworked and underappreciated at the Bowl, a tech startup selling “aquatic creations” (a refreshing break from the digital media startups that saturate millennial workplace fiction). Flores’ six-figure debt, as well as the impending end of her lease, weighs heavily on her mind, and she experiences a crisis of conscience when her colleague presents a plot to increase share prices at the expense of their boss’ position. 

Meanwhile, Paula spends her days working at a local discount store; taking walks with Vicente, a married friend with whom she shares a complicated past; and trying to figure out how she wants to spend “la tercera edad” of her life—years she’d imagined would be spent traveling between New York and Lima with Martín. Each judges the other’s decisions, and the disconnect and grudges they’ve carried since Flores was a little girl, once mediated by Martín, are amplified in his absence. 

Paula’s narration is the more affecting of the two perspectives; her insights about motherhood, marriage, and how both can feel like traps are simple but profound. Precarity—of identity, money, shelter, relationships, health—is the central tension for both women: How do we muster the strength and hope to move forward despite life’s fragility and disappointments? It’s a question rich enough to stand on its own; unfortunately, it’s crowded by side characters and minor plots. 

Still, Flores and Paula are so vibrant and endearing that they minimize these narrative frustrations.

An abundance of heart makes up for underdeveloped side plots in this story of life after loss.

Praise for Flores and Miss Paula

“Deeply compassionate and tender, Melissa Rivero’s new novel paints a striking portrait of the mother-daughter bond with wisdom and empathy. In alternating chapters, we see an immigrant mother and millennial daughter unfold and evolve—with stunning depth. Melissa is a phenomenal talent who combines authenticity and a bold, fresh voice to deliver raw, unforgettable women/characters. Not to be missed!”—Etaf Rum, author of A Woman Is No Man

“Intimate, elegant, and nuanced, Flores and Miss Paula is as much the story of a vibrant community in flux as it is about the immutability of love and the silences that bind a family. This is an absolute treasure of a novel.”—Patricia Engel, author of Infinite Country

“Melissa Rivero is magnificent. Her vision is clear, her characters are real, and her words are tender and true. In her newest novel, she writes about loyalty, money, loss, and love; she writes about home, the long path to finding it, and all the places we can go only when guided by an author so skilled.”—Julia Phillips, author of Disappearing Earth

About Melissa Rivero, Author of Flores and Miss Paula

Flores and Miss Paula author Melissa Rivero

Melissa Rivero is the author of The Affairs of the Falcóns, which won the 2019 New American Voices Award and a 2020 International Latino Book Award. The book was also long-listed for the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel, the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize, and the Aspen Words Literary Prize. Born in Lima, Peru, and raised in Brooklyn, she is a graduate of NYU and Brooklyn Law School. She still lives in Brooklyn with her family.

You can find and follow Melissa on her website, on Facebook and on Instagram.

Titles by Melissa Rivero

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