Sorry, Bro by Taleen Voskuni
LGBTQ Contemporary Romance
Published by Berkley on January 31, 2023
Reviewed by Kate
As an Armenian-American (and a bisexual one, at that), I both feel super qualified and yet totally unprepared to review Taleen Voskuni’s debut novel Sorry, Bro. I’m coming from a place where I unabashedly loved this book before I even read it, and I don’t know that I am the most fair and unbiased reader. Armenian-Americans have very little representation in the general media, much less in the romance genre, and Sorry, Bro is like a piece of my heart made into book form, something I didn’t know I wanted but have been longing for my whole life.
First, a bit of a warning. Sorry, Bro took me a long time to read. I wish I could say I devoured this book the minute I started it, but this book covered a lot of heavy topics that sometimes necessitated me setting it down and coming back to it. I do not feel like this book is a rom-com and I think it is doing this book a disservice to market it as such.
This book is a journey of a bisexual Armenian-American woman to both get back to her roots and live her authentic life in the face of a culture that doesn’t support her. A lot of the conflict is internal as Nar comes to terms with having to come out as a bisexual to her family and community if she wants to be with Erebuni long term. This is not just a story of any person coming out as bisexual into the general American culture that we live in today but of specifically coming out into a subculture that isn’t really ready for this kind of situation. As a Midwestern Armenian-American, I can say that in my experience growing up, I had less of an opportunity to interact with Armenians than people on either coasts, (where there tend to be larger populations of diasporan Armenians) but I don’t think I’ve ever met a queer Armenian or Armenian-American in person (other than myself, I suppose). And I don’t think that’s because they don’t exist. I think this is important context for those reading Sorry, Bro who might view the conflict as manufactured or blown out of proportion. I think Voskuni did try to explain the intensity of the mindsets through the various characters, but I’m not sure all readers will understand the depths of the issue if it is not their culture.
However, I loved seeing the positive pieces of Armenian culture that Voskuni put in Sorry, Bro. I loved Erebuni and her beauty, both inside and out, and her willingness to be herself and how that inspired Nar. I loved Erebuni’s friend group and their acceptance of Nar. The writing in this book is lovely, though sometimes the parentheticals felt more like the author’s notes to herself than Nar’s thoughts, but maybe that’s because it is obvious how much Voskuni poured of herself into this book.
And we have now hit the point where I’m crying writing this review. Sorry, Bro just rang so true to the Armenian-American experience. I know it wasn’t my experience, but it was so relatable as one of the many experiences people go through growing up in a certain culture. The family ties, the necessity of continuing to speak (and speak, and speak) about an atrocity from over 100 years ago, the push and pull of wanting to be an American but still maintain ties to the things that make you Armenian, all of those things felt like they were ripped out of my life and put on the page. (Though sometimes I did think to myself, is that truly how we transliterate that word?)
I also enjoyed the romance, the tentative overtures Nar made to Erebuni, and the growth of their friendship and relationship. I felt that some of the conflict was overdone – I don’t know that Nar’s ex-boyfriend even needed to make an appearance as it felt a bit over the top – and then some of the ending and Erebuni’s forgiveness felt a bit rushed. But I do feel this book met the romance genre conventions and though the romance is deeply entwined with Nar’s personal growth and journey, I do not know that it would have been possible to have one without the other.
Overall, of course I recommend Sorry, Bro. As I was reading, I worried that some of the parts about Armenian culture felt a bit like a lecture, but that may be because I knew them already and didn’t need them told to me, and for other readers, it may feel like a discovery. I hope anybody going in who has never heard of Armenians before will take this as an opportunity to learn even a little bit about them while also enjoying a lovely sapphic romance. I would also ask that you do not go into it expecting a rom-com, but a deep story with layers of culture and a bit of trauma. If you go into it with the right mindset, I believe you’ll be rewarded with an overall joyous story with hope and lots of flavor.
Content warnings: Death of a parent, alcoholism, emotional abuse prior to the book’s events of Nar’s mother by her father (shown in brief flashbacks), homophobia, discussion of the Armenian Genocide, sexism in the workplace
How wonderful, Kate, that you’ve found a book that represents some of your own background and experiences! Many thanks for sharing your thoughts!