So I walked into this novel not quite sure what to expect. Not in terms of writing, but what to expect from myself. Because to be quite honest; my knowledge of Mexican and Mexican-American (this book taught me there is indeed a difference) culture was surface level at best. Yes, my list of friends include people of Mexican descent but that doesn’t precisely translate into understanding their culture, their history, and their struggles. So I came into this book ready to learn. And learn I did.
I learned cultural perspectives I had never considered. I was forced to confront angles of racism that I had never really thought about. Cultural nuances were brought to my attention. In the midst of these different perspectives, I also found great points of commonality. Points of shared hurt and disappointment. In short, this book did what all good books should do. It brought me into its world and made me comfortable staying in it.
So based on the title, it’s pretty obvious the focus of the book is the character of Gabi. She’s a Mexican-American high school senior and like so many teens she is dealing with a whole host of things that she probably shouldn’t have to be dealing with. She has two best friends; one is pregnant and the other’s gay. Her Mother is a bit domineering and is always harassing her about something whether it’s Gabi’s weight or why she shouldn’t leave for college. She has a Father who is a drug addict that keeps trying to get back into some kind of normalcy but isn’t able to get there. And to top it all off she has to navigate the treacherous roads of sex and boys. It’s a lot but it’s also incredibly and heartbreakingly normal.
An unfortunate criticism that book reviewers tend to lob at minority writers working in the field of Young Adult literature is that they throw too many problems in. These reviewers can’t handle race, sexuality, and drugs all in one novel. It’s too much for them and they want these writers to narrow their focus. All that criticism proves to me is that we need more diverse reviewers. Minorities in America understand intersectionality and don’t run away from it. At no point did I feel overwhelmed by the number of issues thrown out in this book. I have seen Gabi lacking self-esteem because of her weight. I have known Gabi in his efforts to try and find her place in the world. There are many like Gabi right now and their stories deserved to be told unabashedly. This novel does that.
The author pulls you into these issues and never does it start to feel like she’s preaching or she’s trying to get you to agree with a perspective. She simply puts it out in its most honest, raw form and leaves it out there. Gabi’s thoughts about her weight and the relation to how her Mother makes her feel are laid out without judgment. Sebastian’s journey through his sexuality thankfully stays away from a completely hellish scenario and is often dealt with humor and fun. The Father’s addiction to drugs is brutal in physical details, but also makes sure the emotional response is as eye opening.
Never do I get angry with the people in Gabi’s life and that deserves a hefty round of applause for the author. It’s easy in difficult situations like these, especially ones in which you can personally relate, to get angry with the characters. Anger is an easy emotion and I think for that reason many writers in this field fall back on it. This novel doesn’t do that. Not once was I mad with anyone. I felt disappointment, sadness, joy, hope, but never anger. That’s a testament to the story’s ability to make you feel like the characters in this book are as much your family as they are Gabi’s. Empathy is cultivated through the writing naturally.
Many of the details in this book were revelations for me. As an African-American, I often thought it was just our community who would accuse people of doing things that meant they were “acting white”. I almost laughed when I saw that Mexican-Americans do the same and often for some of the reasons African-Americans do. My Grandmother often pointed out promiscuity as something that “white people” did. It seems small, but it was the first detail that really taught me something in the book. There was an intersection of culture there and along the way I found other things we have in common. A love for cooking. Families that sometimes seem too tight knit. Drug issues. Religion and the excesses that come along with it. A strong rejection, unfortunately, of homosexuality. I saw these things unfold in the book and each one brought me more into the story. We were communicating, the story and I.
But for all the things I could relate, there were elements of the story entirely new for me. It wasn’t until recently I really started to understand the large palette of skin tones that people of Mexican descent can come in. Gabi’s struggle of being too light and seeming to not want it was something that took me a bit to wrap my head around. I was so use to a world perspective in which lighter skin is upheld (erroneously of course) as being better. Confusion gripped me trying to think why this would be a problem until Gabi quickly pointed out why. Her skin color created an illusion of whiteness that allowed good ol’ American ignorance and racism to be brandished in front of her without abandon. Then I got it and felt instantly terrible because racism is bad enough, but to be around in its purest form must be a painful experience. I was shown a new side to racism I had never really considered before. It made me think of my own ancestors and how awful the act of “passing” as white must truly have been. The anger that must have simmered in their hearts was put on full display for me by Gabi. So, in a way, the novel made me reflect and consider a new perspective on even my own history. Bravo!
Gabi, A Girl in Pieces is a wonderful young adult piece that properly shows how to handle intersectional identities while still keeping the writing level superb. It successfully avoids the pitfall of being a school special and also dodges becoming something so depressing that you’re left empty afterward. No, this story at its conclusion made me hopeful and privileged. Hopeful that through these kinds of stories being told we let all the Gabi’s of the world see their worth. Privileged because I think this novel left me better than when I began it.
PUBLISHER: Cinco Puntos Press (http://www.cincopuntos.com/)
AMAZON LINK: http://www.amazon.com/Gabi-Girl-Pieces-Isabel-Quintero/dp/1935955950/
AUTHOR FB PAGE: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Isabel-Quintero/1484113661803075/