We Are the Brennans, the debut novel by Tracey Lange, is one of my most anticipated books of next month. Luckily for me, Book of the Month offered it as a selection this month – a full month early! Because of an online book club I sometimes participate in, I bumped it to the top of my list and started reading it as soon as it arrived. Trust me when I say that you need to get this once it’s out!
|We Are the Brennans by Tracey Lange|
|Genre||Contemporary Fiction; Drama|
|Number of Pages||271|
|Format I Read||Hardcover|
|Original Publication Date||August 3, 2021|
In the vein of Mary Beth Keane’s Ask Again, Yes and Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s The Nest, Tracey Lange’s We Are the Brennans explores the staying power of shame—and the redemptive power of love—in an Irish Catholic family torn apart by secrets.
When twenty-nine-year-old Sunday Brennan wakes up in a Los Angeles hospital, bruised and battered after a drunk driving accident she caused, she swallows her pride and goes home to her family in New York. But it’s not easy. She deserted them all—and her high school sweetheart—five years before with little explanation, and they’ve got questions.
Sunday is determined to rebuild her life back on the east coast, even if it does mean tiptoeing around resentful brothers and an ex-fiancé. The longer she stays, however, the more she realizes they need her just as much as she needs them. When a dangerous man from her past brings her family’s pub business to the brink of financial ruin, the only way to protect them is to upend all their secrets—secrets that have damaged the family for generations and will threaten everything they know about their lives. In the aftermath, the Brennan family is forced to confront painful mistakes—and ultimately find a way forward, together.
Part of why I was so excited to read We Are the Brennans is because the family is Irish American. While my own family’s Irish roots aren’t quite as recent in our family tree, I do have a fair amount of Irish in me, and my sister currently lives in Ireland, so it’s a special country for me.
Something that struck me early on in reading We Are the Brennans is just how comfortable the book felt to me. I can’t really explain what it is, but despite all the drama going on in the Brennans’ lives, the story felt like it wrapped me up in a cozy sweater. It feels gentle, familiar, and warm – qualities I don’t often encounter in books, but which I loved here.
More than anything, We Are the Brennans is a family drama, albeit a quiet one. They’re a close-knit family, but they have their issues and secrets. They’re generally good people, but they’re not perfect and they make mistakes – sometimes pretty big ones. But I found the issues here very realistic and even relatable to things I’ve witnessed in real life.
For example, Denny (the oldest of the four Brennan siblings) is facing financial troubles and communication issues with his wife. Divorce may be imminent for the two of them. Kale, too, has a strained relationship with his wife, Vivienne, but his issues also stem from two of the Brennans: Not only is his business partner Denny putting them in a precarious position, but his ex-fiancé Sunday (the younger sister of Denny) is back in town, and Kale’s not entirely over their breakup from five years ago. Sunday, too, has leftover feelings from her ex, as well as unexamined trauma from back then. Throw in current and past issues with the Brennans’ parents and we have a lot on our hands here!
I love how interconnected everything is. We get to follow six of the main characters, each chapter focusing on one of them and getting us into their minds a bit. Everything flows from one character to the next, making it a fluid and seamless journey. So seamless, in fact, that each chapter ends with another character saying something, and the next begins with that same quote. The bookend quotes serve to volley us from one character to the POV of whoever said that last line. It’s an interesting writing technique, and I quite enjoyed it here.
Nearly all of the characters are likable, though I have a hard time mustering sympathy or forgiveness for some of them. (*Cough cough* Maura and Vivienne and Billy.) But even those making some bigger mistakes or acting overall more annoying (like Denny or Mickey) have redeemable qualities and turnarounds.
As I worked my way through We Are the Brennans, I found myself becoming really invested in the characters and the various storylines. Of course, hopeless romantic that I am, I was most excited about Sunday and Kale’s chapters. I just really wanted them to rekindle what they had! (Thus kicking aside Kale’s rebound wife, but she’s not my favorite person here, so she can deal with it!) But on top of that, I also loved seeing the true meaning of family, loyalty, and honesty. There are some important lessons packed in here, couched within a story that feels real and intimate.
We Are the Brennans is heart-warming, tragic, hopeful, and cozy – a novel that will stay with me for years to come. And with its sort-of cliffhanger ending, I hope I’ll be able to spend more time with this family in a sequel soon. Fingers crossed!
We Are the Brennans is an excellent debut, and I hope to read more from Tracey Lange – including a sequel! Please? This novel was warm and even better than I’d anticipated, and I can’t wait for it to be available more widely next month.
About the Author
Born in the Bronx and raised in Manhattan, Tracey Lange comes from a large Irish family with a few secrets of its own. She headed west and graduated from the University of New Mexico before owning and operating a behavioral healthcare company with her husband for fifteen years. While writing her debut novel, We Are the Brennans, she completed the Stanford University online novel writing program. Tracey currently lives in Bend, Oregon, with her husband, two sons and their German Shepherd.