I received a review copy of The Lemon Orchard by Luanne Rice from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
The Lemon Orchard is the story of two people from very different socioeconomic classes who share a bond of grief. Julia’s daughter died in a car accident, and Roberto’s daughter was lost on the night they came to America when he was captured by Border Patrol. When Julia house-sits for her wealthy aunt and uncle, she and Roberto meet, fall in love, and begin to finally heal.
Even though I finished reading this one almost three weeks ago, I’ve been putting off writing the review because I have such mixed feelings about the book. I absolutely loved the first half of the story, and had a hard time putting it down. Julia and Roberto were a cute couple, and each filled a void in the other ones life. I wanted them to be happy together, and was glad to see their relationship develop. As the book progressed, my opinion began to change, and I felt like the The Lemon Orchard began to reenforce the same stereotypes that it sought to dispel. Julia and Roberto initially bonded over shared grief, but they never had any common interests, experiences, or discussions about any other subject. They slept together and went out a few times, but the relationship seemed superficial. We didn’t see Roberto’s character in any other light than a grieving father or Julia’s lover. He’s interesting only because of his relationships to others, but aside from that is a flat character.
Roberto had very little agency in the search for his daughter, which is understandable considering that he can’t exactly be calling border patrol agents to talk about what they might have seen in the desert all those years ago, but at the same time, Julia could have been more open about what she was doing. It seemed like they weren’t equal partners in the relationship. The rich white lady did everything. At the same time, we see people in Julia’s social circle stressing that the relationship will never last because they are just too different, and that “unions between educated women and the help never lasted.” That line infuriated me. I wanted a story that challenged that assumption, and after my initial excitement during the first half of the book, it was an extreme disappointment. Oh, and the ending? Without going into any details, I’ll say that it pissed me off. (My boyfriend can attest to the fact that I was running around the apartment yelling “It’s such bullshit!” over and over for a good twenty minutes after finishing the book.)
I wanted to love this one, but it just didn’t work for me as a whole. There was a lot of potential, and other readers may enjoy the romance and the mystery of the search for Roberto’s daughter, so don’t let my review dissuade you if it sounds like something you’d be interested in.