Thoughts: Gabi, A Girl in Pieces #HHM

gabi-girl-in-pieces

Gabi has a lot on her plate. It’s her last year of high school but apart from classes and college applications, she also has to deal with a father who is fighting a losing battle with meth addiction, her friend Cindy getting pregnant (as a result of date rape, we learn later), her other best friend Sebastian coming out, as well as exploring her own sexuality and first relationships.

Isabel Quintero’s first novel Gabi, A Girl in Pieces, published by CincoPuntoPress, is a tour-de-force. The good thing about being blissfully ignorant about new releases and a lot of hype before joining twitter is that I mostly missed all the excitement and picked up this book only now because I vaguely remembered someone saying it was good and it being LatinX Heritage Month. So I got to skirt the overblown expectations trap, yay, but am totally doing this to you now with this review. #sorrynotsorry

If you’re into intersectional feminism (you better be!), then this book will make you want to get out your highlighters. Let me quote this section, which everyone else is apparently also quoting (google told me, but still thanks for the easy c&p)):

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.

This excerpt really concisely introduces all the issues Quintero adresses in the novel and also drives home the point that Gabi lives at a very specific intersection of gender, race and ethnicity. So the novel explores one culture’s version of the double-standard, that of patriarchal machismo Mexican-American dichotomy of the virgen/puta. And Gabi has to realize that many women in her community have internalized this toxicity and police other women’s behavior and expression of sexuality (as they tend to, don’t get me started on this issue), her mother among them:

“for my mother, a woman’s whole value is what’s between her legs. And once a man has access to that, she has no more value.”

Part of this patriarchal view is also the refusal to accept homosexuality and Gabi’s friend Sebastian is thrown out by his parents when he comes out. On the other side of the coin we have the boys will be boys mentality, about which Gabi writes a scathing poem.

Gabi is furthermore not marked Mexican-American by her skin color, instead she is so light-skinned she can pass as white but as a result has to deal with feeling alienated at times. Since I basically have the opposite problem, this was an interesting change in perspective.

The book also shows Gabi’s acceptance when it comes to her body and she moves from regarding herself as a “fatgirl” to acceptance. There’s a terrible lack of “fativism” in books and hopefully this will change in coming years, but it’s another reason why I hope Gabi will be read and taught widely, so these young women will see themselves represented too.

I also loved was watching Gabi coming into her own as a poet, apart from the diary style of the novel, we also get to read Gabi’s poetry and her attempts at spoken word. Poetry is how Gabi finds a way to express and empower herself. Her words are sharp and to the point and you’ll want to pick up a poetry collection immediately after finishing this book (I’ll be gushing about one particular, exciting collection later this week, stay tuned!).

The language use is wonderfully done as well, I’m glad there’s no glossary and hardly any translations. Quintero makes me work for it and I gladly got out my rusty Spanish for beginners knowledge, and between knowing other romance language and guessing from context…no excuses people! I’m sure LatinX will love this book and the intermingling of English and Spanish…Spanglish? And us other readers do well to remember to work on our privilege.

It’s amazing that this is a first novel. It’s a book that will be taught in high schools and colleges everywhere!

Other thoughts:

Reading the End

Twinja Book Reviews

Life of a Female Bibliophile

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

Advertisements

Review: What Sunny Saw in the Flames

sunny ic for review

What Sunny Saw In The Flames, previously published in the US as Akata Witch, is one of the books by one of my favorite writers that I hadn’t read yet. Published by Cassava Republic, the book is out in the UK now! So run to the nearest bookstore!

What Sunny Saw is a wonderful tale of magic and growing into yourself set in Nigeria. Our protagonist Sunny Nwazue is 12 years old with albinism, she is also American-born, like the author, only having moved to Nigeria when she was 9. The US-title Akata Witch, a slur for American-born Africans further drives home this facet of Sunny’s identity. Living in the town of Aba with her parents and younger brothers, Sunny is furthermore Igbo, one ethnicity in Nigeria. I love this representation of complex identities that also mirror my own experience. We are rarely ever just A or B and this novel also shows the Nigerian perspective, people emigrating, people returning, and people visiting. This goes against most Western tales around movement and immigration which usually only present us with that infamous single story.

We first get an inkling of what is to come, when Sunny, as the title promises, sees something in the flame of a candle. Her vision is of a terrible future and shakes her to the core. She begins the get some answers, when she befriends Orlu and Chichi, who introduce her to the world of the Leopard People. Together with Sasha, they form a quartet of magical students, learning about their juju abilities and spirit selves. But Sunny has the most to learn as she is what is called a free agent, a Leopard person whose parents are Lambs (non-magical). However, her vision looms over her newly-discovered identity and soon the group must face the evil Black Hat.

Inevitably comparisons with Harry Potter come up, but as Brendon importantly points out, “We must stop comparing literature and stories in this way because it gives all the credit to the stories of privilege (White, western, straight, male/man, able).” And so, what annoys me with these comparisons is that Harry Potter and other white, Western works are irretrievably set up as originator of certain plots or the origin from which all else strays. However, as we know, Rowling as well as many other Western writers before her have and continue to “borrow” from other works, mythologies and cultures.

World-building is something that I find Okorafor just excels at. I really enjoyed the culture of the Leopard People and also the book inside the book: Fast Facts for Free Agents by Isong Abong Effiong Isong. I’d love to read more from it. Leopard culture is steeped in Igbo and other West African culture and after my last read taught me about Yoruba culture, it was great to revisit and learn more about the Igbo. Some of these days I need to pick up some more non-Western mythology works! It’s a wonderfully diverse world in What Sunny Saw, and the Leopard community too is made up of various ethnic groups and the African diaspora and globalization have led to secret communities all over the world!

I also appreciated the depiction of everyday struggles of girls in how Sunny has to deal with an abusive father and housework is of course made her chore. Sunny is clever and fierce though and uses some of these expectations to keep her juju abilities and Leopard identity secret from her family.

I would complain about the ending seeming a tad abrupt, but really I enjoy the learning about other worlds parts of books more than violent showdowns so I don’t care, I just had the best time reading this one! Cannot wait for the sequel!!

Other thoughts:

Gaming for Justice

what the log had to say

Spirit blog

Zezee with Books

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll link!

Disclaimer: I received a free e-book from the publisher, but never fear I remain my opinionated self!

Thoughts: Coffee Will Make You Black

coffee will make you black

April Sinclair’s Coffee Will Make You Black is the coming-of-age story of young Jean “Stevie” Stevenson who grows up in the Chicago Southside of the 1960s, in the midst of the Black Power and Civil Rights movements. As a bildungsroman, the novel follows Stevie from age eleven until seventeen and her journey of self-discovery  as well as her and her community’s place in the US. If, like me, you’re not from the US, the title may have you confused. Coffe will make you Black is explained by Stevie’s grandmother as:

“The old folks in the South used to tell that to children so they wouldn’t want to drink coffee. The last thing anybody wanted to be was black.”

Horrible isn’t it? As you can see, and important part of the novel revolves about racism and racial identity. Sinclair also critiques the colorism inside and outside of the Black community. For Stevie is very dark-skinned and among her group of friends they like to compare their skin color to see who is the lightest. Alongside these notions of colorism is the rise of the Black Power movement through which Stevie comes to reject anti-blackness. Instead, she decides to wear her hair in a ‘fro and refuses the skin-bleaching cremes her mother offers her. Sinclair further demonstrates the generational conflict at work as Stevie’s mother strives to emulate white people in that she straightens her hair, bleaches her skin and insists on ‘proper’ English. Stevie, however, fights her mother and embraces Black vernacular and insists on staying friends with a girl who is ‘nothing but trouble.’

But square Stevie also longs to be part of the cool group, which leads to boyfriends with misogynistic attitudes and nearly having sex before she is ready. Growing closer to white school nurse Horn, Stevie comes to re-evaluate her sexual identity and also her community’s attitudes towards interracial friendship and homosexuality that she had previously accepted without question.

In the end, the novel proudly declares that ‘Black is beautiful’ and Stevie’s grandmother offers an other saying, ‘The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice’ as counterpoints to the titular racist idiom. Sinclair for the most part wonderfully connects and interrelates the coming of age story and the Civil Rights narrative, even if some moments could’ve done with a lighter touch. But this is a debut novel and it spoke to me on so many levels. I can only imagine what this book might mean to all the Stevies out there. And apart from its obvious importance in telling the story of growing up a Black girl in the 60s, a lot of the book is uproriously funny! I can only draw from other readings and movies about the time and community for comparison, but I think Sinclair’s use of vernacular is fantastic and lends the book much of its charm.

Luckily there is a sequel, Ain’t Gonna Be the Same Fool Twice, which follows Stevie’s exploration of her sexual identity in her college years in San Francisco. I can’t wait to read it!

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

What’s your favorite coming of age story? Tell me in the comments!

Review: The Magic Toyshop

Short post today, I have so much reading to do (uni, but still fun), I can’t seem to concentrate on one book enough to write down my thoughts in a manner that will make sense to people not in my head. So apologies for my ramblings but since I am reading Virago books for Virago Reading Week I still wanted to share.

Angela Carter’s works have been on my radar for ages but so far I’ve always chickened out of actually reading anything by her. But this is a new year and I’ve recently gotten over my intimidation of Rushdie, so when I saw that Rachel and Carolyn are hosting a Virago Reading Week, it seemed like the perfect occasion to delve into Carter’s world.

Starting a book with a lot of preconceived notions is nearly always a problem, but I’m happy to say that I was not disappointed. The Magic Toyshop is completely amazing though not nearly as disturbing or weird as I expected. It’s foremost a coming of age story, namely that of 15-year-old Melanie who discovers and relishes in her newfound sexuality. However, when she and her siblings are suddenly orphaned, Melanie is confronted with the darker side of human interactions and sexuality. While she is at home, Melanie is free to explore her sexuality (going as far as to perform in front of a mirror), but when she and her siblings move to their uncle’s place in south London, she and her body seem to become something of a territory to be explored and conquered by men. There is Finn, whom she is both repelled by and attracted to, and of course her uncle who tries to exert control over her by deciding over her clothes, her speech and finally by trying to re-enacting Leda and the Swan.

The use of speech in this novel is certainly interesting. Uncle Philip uses it as a means of control; Melanie is told only to speak when addressed directly, and her aunt  has fled or been suppressed into speechlessness and has to use writing as a means of communication. The uncle does seem to prefer his family to be as silent as his puppets and suppressing their speech is one way of putting strings on his family. Uncle Philip’s love for his puppets is pretty creepy, as are the puppets. And I don’t know how weird that makes me, but I really expected there to be more to them (like being murdered people made into puppets. Should probably stop reading Joyce Carol Oates’ short stories).

What I also loved was Carter’s ability to create such atmospheric prose. It’s nearly lyrical in places but never too flowery or merely decorative. Are all her novels like that? I read that this was one of her earlier works, so I really want to see what she went on to achieve. The Magic Toyshop is amazing, but I think that aspects of power relations, gender and those dark and twisty instances of magical realism could be more pronounced.

For my second Virago read this week I chose Mad, Bad and Sad which is great so far. I’m happy I read The Female Malady last year, so now I can compare how Appignanesi and Showalter approach the subject (and I can nod knowledgeably when names and theories I’m familiar with pop up 😉 ).

What are you reading this week?

 

Other thoughts:

Things Mean A Lot

Verity’s Virago Venture

Another Cookie Crumbles

Lovely Trees Reads

 

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

Review: Scherbenpark (Broken Glass Park)

Yes, you´re not imagining things, I actually read a German book! And it´s a book that I put off reading for quite a while because of all the hype and the in-your-face marketing strategy. Has that ever kept you from reading a book? When Scherbenpark first came out in Germany, it was everywhere and I felt basically forced to celebrate the “fresh new voice”. What made me reconsider was, ironically enough, the fact that Europa Editions decided to translate Scherbenpark into English (Broken Glass Park). While Germany is a country that luckily translates a lot of books, the same cannot be said for English countries, and so, if a book is actually translated into English, I sit up and take notice.

Alina Bronsky’s Scherbenpark is a coming-of-age story about seventeen year old Sascha Naimann, who lives with her younger brother and sister and a cousin in a Russian ghetto in Germany. Sascha came to Germany with her mother when she was about ten years old, but is smart and curious and attends an elite school. As a result she is quite upset and irritated when people comment on how well she speaks German (oh how I can relate!). Sascha is generally quickly irritated and cranky, but as the story unfolds we find out that apart from just being a teenager, there are other reasons for her behaviour. Because Sascha´s family history is a tragic one, her stepfather Vadim killed her mother and her mother’s new lover in their apartment. And here is what might give you a good impression of the tone of this book: As the story starts out, Sascha has two goals: to write a book about her mother, and to kill Vadim.

Obviously this book is not for the faint-hearted. As a result of the tragedy and her environment, Sascha becomes an angry young woman. Remember all those men in books and movies who are hell-bent on (self-) destruction? Well, Sascha fits very well into this niche, but Bronsky shows that girls can do it just as well. Sascha is tough, commanding and even scares some of the adults around her. Sascha’s anger is nearly palpable and sets the pace of the story. The first person narrative, which sometimes comes close to stream-of-consciousness, works very well. I usually hesitate to read a book without chapters, but in Scherbenpark, any other way to structure the narrative would have only distanced the reader from Sascha, and identifying with the protagonist is essential to this story.

Which brings me to another aspect of this book that I did not enjoy as much, the clichés Bronsky uses to describe people in the book. The Russian ghetto is full of teenage gangs, there is the cliché of the violent, lazy Russian, the stupid housewife, the German elite. These only work when the reader is completely invested in Sascha’s story and sees these people only through her eyes. At least there are some moments when Sascha slows down, in which she takes notice of the fact that the world is not quite as black and white. So perhaps these clichés are a technique Bronksy uses to make Sascha’s perspective even more immediate, I’m really hoping for this explanation.

I’m glad I gave this book a chance. It’s not quite as brilliant as the hype makes it out to be, but neither is it badly written. In fact, the simple syntax (and this is something that is probably only taken note of to such an extent in Germany, where we learn how to write sentences that are one page long), made perfect sense to me. It’s not written in an uneducated style, but one that fits a teenaged narrator. Sascha is tough but vulnerable, and despite her horrific plan to kill her stepfather, she is a likeable character. And I was pleasantly surprised by the ending, it fits the story perfectly.

If you tend to enjoy dark, intense stories with strong, intelligent heroines and a fast-paced story, then please give Scherbenpark (engl: Broken Glass Park, there’s a link to a sample chapter) a try.

Other thoughts:

Devourer of Books

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!