Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press
Release Date: October 14, 2014
My mother named me Gabriella, after my grandmother who, coincidentally, didn't want to meet me when I was born because my mother was unmarried, and therefore living in sin. My mom has told me the story many, many, MANY, times of how, when she confessed to my grandmother that she was pregnant with me, her mother beat her. BEAT HER! She was twenty-five. That story is the basis of my sexual education and has reiterated why it's important to wait until you're married to give it up. So now, every time I go out with a guy, my mom says, "Ojos abiertos, piernas cerradas." Eyes open, legs closed. That's as far as the birds and the bees talk has gone. And I don't mind it. I don't necessarily agree with that whole wait until you're married crap, though. I mean, this is America and the 21st century; not Mexico one hundred years ago. But, of course, I can't tell my mom that because she will think I'm bad. Or worse: trying to be White.
One of the more interesting books I have read in a while, Gabi has made it onto my list of favorite characters. Even though she has a very unique situation and ethnic flavor, I found her voice strongly resonated with my former teenage self. As someone who has kept a journal since she was eleven, the journal/diary format was very familiar. Gabi acts and sounds like an authentic teenager. This is a remarkable achievement considering that the author is, in fact, an adult.
Gabi is going through a lot. Her dad is addicted to meth, her aunt is devoutly religious, her best friend is pregnant, and her mother wants Gabi to stay close to home at all times...to protect her virginity. In the midst of all this craziness is one heavyset girl who hoards beef jerky, dreams of having a boyfriend, and is discovering her love of poetry. Sometimes Gabi feels like a spectator in her own life. All this crazy shit is going down around her and here is this Latina girl who is desperately searching for herself and a way out. This may not be our life, but there is something universally human in that.
My only complaint is that on paper, if one were to make a list, this book hits all the "talking points" all the diversity issues. Mexican main character who is overweight, drug addict for a father, gay friend whose parents kicked him out of the house, pregnant best friend, abortion, rape, religious zealotry, sex education, dating, leaving home. All of this with a strong feminist slant, which doesn't bother me at all, but talk about not subtle.
Maybe it doesn't need to be either. Perhaps the beauty of a book like this is its lack of subtly. The understanding that although it is unlikely that all of this would happen to one person, it does happen. That there are teenagers out there dealing with some of this. It is one girl's story told with heartbreaking frustration and desire. Essentially, it is about finding oneself amidst turmoil.