Bridgette Ramirez

Natalka Burian’s Welcome to the Slipstream paints a portrait of the tangled relationship between a socially awkward 17-year-old girl named Van and her brilliant and colorful but deeply troubled mother, Sofia.  Van has followed Sofia’s wandering for her whole life.  Her only companion (and stability) is a vivacious and charming elderly woman named Ida, who has traveled with them for many years - although whether she’s there more to watch over Van or Sofia is debatable.


Purchase your copy of Welcome to the Slipstream here!

At the novel’s opening, Van, Sofia, and Ida are moving from a remote residence in Uzbekistan to a casino in Las Vegas.  There Van meets Alex, a good-looking college student that Ida calls ‘Antonio Banderas’ with an obvious - and hilarious - eyebrow wriggle at Van.  Funnily enough, Alex and Van do develop a cute, teenagery romance that lightens the otherwise darkish and complicated mood of Van’s relationship with her mother.  I was endeared by Van’s adorkable missteps into her first friendship since Ida, from the moment Alex finds Van in what he calls a ‘microscopic murder closet’ and she retorts that ‘it’s the quietest place [she] could find’ to practice guitar in the chaos of the casino.  He’s the first one to take her outside the building, and he’ll be the first outsider she opens up to in her life.

Unfortunately, Sofia’s instability still looms over Van at every corner.  Originally from Belarus, Sofia possesses a wanderlust so palpable that no one can trace her accent - a hodgepodge of colloquialisms she’s learned and countries she’s visited.   Van simultaneously wishes and dreads that she could be more like her mother.  The beauty.  The wildness.  The thrill.

Van describes her mother eloquently here:

‘Mom had a way of looking at spaces, at getting them to make the most sense - she made them beautiful and useful, but she also made them special.  Her unusual creative solutions led to frequent opportunities in the hospitality industry, but her unusual and creative qualities were what got her fired a lot, too.’

Van wrestles with that tension for the whole book, and that struggle makes both her character journey and her mother’s personality so compelling.  So much of Sofia is fantastic and beautiful and absorbing.  However, her bad decisions and selfishness make her hard to love.  The threadbare family dynamic is only possible thanks to Ida and Van keeping a vigilant watch over Sofia’s mental health.  Throughout the novel, Van describes the subtle and unsubtle tells that her mother is unraveling: changes in her accent, her eyes opening a tad bit too wide, the way she repeatedly opens and closes their moving boxes, and, as time goes on, an increasing attachment to an ‘astro-therapist’ named Marine.

After watching over her mother for so long, Van at last starts to forge her own path through music when Alex introduces her to his friends’ band.  If I have one critique for this book, it’s that I wish I could’ve seen even more development between Van and her band.  Her first performance, done against Sofia’s wishes, marks both her first act of confidence and first moment of separation from her mother.  I’m always down to see a young woman gain more self-awareness and independence, and Van was no exception.  At the same time, I wondered if Van was doing right by Ida to leave her alone to deal with Sofia.  I felt contradictory but in an interesting way.

The plot becomes swept up with Sofia’s involvement in a New Age cult, which forces Van to hurry to Sedona to search for her mother after she gets lost in the desert on her journey to become a prophetess.  The idea is as convoluted as it sounds.  I thought the desert journey’s bizarreness fit well with the book’s theme, but after a while, it began to detract from the more emotional potency of Van’s relationships with the other characters.


Natalka Burian’s Welcome to the Slipstream paints a portrait of the tangled relationship between a 17-year-old girl and her brilliant but deeply troubled mother.


All that said, the book’s ending may have been the most interesting of all.  I’ll leave out the details, but I will say that Van’s emotional journey remains unresolved in many ways.  Her relationship with her mother isn’t magically fixed, and it’s unclear whether it will ever be fixed.  At the same time, the book hints that Van can find a different life and can establish healthier relationships in the future.  It’s open-ended, it's messy and it's vague, but it’s hopeful.  Perhaps with this kind of journey, that’s the most you can ask for.

I wasn’t sure how I would feel about Welcome to the Slipstream when I first opened it.  My usual reads are more lighthearted and comedic, and I thought that the book’s subject matter might be depressing.  However, the author balances Van’s hardship and anger with a hopeful future and a unique coming-of-age narrative that gives texture to the always complex connection between a mother and a daughter.  If you’re in for a fascinating read, I would recommend Welcome to the Slipstream.


Bridgette is a hardcore nerd who hopes to find a wardrobe to Narnia, tap into the Force, and join the Avengers, but since she hasn’t yet, she writes to compensate.  She has a B.A. in Creative Writing from Scripps College and she currently lives with her family in West Covina, CA.  She reviews books and movies on her blog at


Comments (2)

  1. Angelina Eimannsberger

So interesting! Thanks for sharing!

  1. Meagan Hooper

Excellent review Bridgette!


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