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!

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Thoughts: The Girl Who Fell from the Sky

girlwhofell

In a tragic incident, a woman and her three young children fall from the roof of a high building in Chicago. 11 year old Rachel is the only one to survive.

Heidi W. Durrow’s debut novel examines Blackness, biraciality and belonging in the context of the US during the 1980s. After the fall Rachel, the child of a Black American GI and a white Danish mother, is sent to live with her Black grandmother in Portland Oregon. It is only then that light-skinned Rachel with the “bluest eye(s)”is confronted with how exactly she is to fit into the Black community. Until this point, we are told, Rachel has not had to confront this issues or colorism or anti-Black racism. Having grown up on US bases in Germany and spent vacations in Denmark has apparently allowed her to live in the in-between without having to choose either parts of her identity. I’m emphasizing this because while, yes, I do understand that this book focuses on biraciality in the Black community and obviously reflects the author’s own experience, I was confused about Rachel’s life before. I want this post to be spoiler-free, so let’s just say that the impact of racism plays a key role in the mysterious incident that lost Rachel much of her family, and then thinking about army bases as microcosmos and how racism in Germany operates – well it felt like there was a huge gap that asked me to ignore all these issues to buy into the premise that racism and having to explain her identity only really began in the US. Likely this is a stylistic choice and is not meant to leave me with this impression, but it took me a while to get into the story that I was actually presented with.

It’s important to remember that this story is set in the 80s, before Obama and more media outlets presented people with stories and images of biracial people. Rachel’s attempt of making sense of how she is positioned in relation to Blackness, from being an outsider to benefitting from colorism, is the main storyline of the novel. She is forever removed from her mother and the Danish language so crucial to her identity. Instead, she is told that she is an “Oreo,” speaking and acting as if she were white. Her grandmother meanwhile tries to mold her in the image of a good Black girl who is supposed to aim no higher than a secretarial job and lonely and hurt at never quite fitting in anywhere, Rachel goes looking for validation in all the wrong places.

These attempts of Rachel at forging a self are by far the strongest aspect of the novel and I would have gladly learned more. Another is of course the mysterious tragedy and multiple narrators are drawn on to act as witness and to provide the context to the way racism and mixed-racedness impact families. While the information and perspective provided by these different voices – a young boy named Brick, Rachel’s mother Nella, her father and Laronne who was Nella’s employer – help understand the reason for the tragedy, they also serve to fragment the book. And perhaps this is also a reason I felt distanced from Rachel for much of the novel, I would have liked spending more time with her and perhaps following her journey into adulthood. There is much material for a sequel.

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky is a welcome contribution to literature about mixed-racedness, identity and belonging. Fittingly, it has won the Bellwether Prize for Literature of Social Change. This is a debut novel that perhaps not always does justice to its fantastic premise, but it has an important story to tell and I will be reading the author’s next novel.

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

5 On a Theme: Queer Horror

queer horror

Representation of queer characters in horror fiction and film was often fraught with problems in the best case scenarios, or outrightly hostile at worst. But in the last decades especially LGBTIQ+ writers have taken on the genre and created complex engagements with horror and queer identity away from the doom and gloom of earlier phobic depictions in the mainstream. Adressing intersecting notions of the queer and horror, the normative and the Other, these works ask us to rethink where we draw lines and how we make rigid transformative and fluid identities.

let the right one in

1. Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

This Swedish vampire story has been adapted to the big screen and been a popular read. 12 year old Oskar’s new friend Eli is a strange one and she only comes out at night. Let The Right One In notably deals with issues of Othering, pederasty and adolescent sexuality as well as the performance of binary gender identity.

affinity

2. Affinity by Sarah Waters

One of my favorite authors, Sarah Waters continuously writes engaging, addictive page-turners with lesbian characters. Affinity, once again set in Victorian London, depicts a complex relationship between Selina a jailed occultist and charity worker Margaret who visits the prisoners of the women’s ward.

gilda

3. The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez

In the 1850s a young Black girl escapes from slavery and finds community in Gilda’s sisterhood of vampires. The Gilda Stories challenges notions of binary gender identity, sexuality and what it means to be a “monster.”

sea, swallow me

4. Sea, Swallow Me by Craig Laurance Gidney

This collection of short stories centers mostly around Black gay characters and combines horror with mythology from Africa to Japan. Reaching from the Antebellum South to the contemporary US, Gidney demonstrates how we are shaped by the intersections of faith,  race and sexuality. Just noticed that with the elements of mythology, fairy tales and the speculative, this could definitely be a good one for the Once Upon a Time challenge.

the drowning girl

5. The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan

This one is about India Morgan Phelps, called Imps by her friends, and her attempts to make sense of her encounters with mythical creates and her family’s history of mental illness. Framed as a Imps’ recordings of these encounters, the book is a meta-heavy work of intertextuality hinted at by the book’s subtitle: a memoir. The Drowning Girl also examines issues of gender performance and transformation in Imps’ friend Abalyn who is a transwoman.

Looking for more themed reading? Take a look at my previous 5 On a Theme post: Afro-German Literature.

Do you enjoy horror stories? What are your favorite scary books beyond the norm?

 

Reading Challenges 2016

books

I have to admit that I have a sort of off-again- on -again relationship with reading challenges. On the one hand, I hate assigned reading and feel immediately restricted in my reading choices, on the other hand I love the community effort in challenges and that they help me stick to reading resolutions, if I make them.

After finally getting back to blogging regularly halfway through 2015, I feel a bit more confident that I’m here to stay and I missed the book blogging community, so I want to participate in a few more events and challenges. So, for 2016 I want to commit to 2 all-year challenges and then see what smaller events happen during the year.

girl with the dragon tattoo readalong

I decided to start 2016 with a bang and catch up with one of the hyped books I still haven’t read. So for January wonderful Deepika of Worn Corners and I will be doing a readalong of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Everyone’s welcome to join in!

book riot

The 2016 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge sounds fantastic. I’ve been following the 2015 challenge and it looked like a blast plus this one challenges you to read more diversely and outside your comfort zone and since I had a wonderful time exploring new genres this year, I want to continue in 2016. Here’s a list with the 24 tasks, which challenge you to read a collection of essays, a book from the Middle East and a book by/about a transgender person among others.

hosted-by-Akilah-@-The-Englishist1

Diversity on the Shelf Challenge, hosted by Akilah of The Englishist

I read a good amount of literature by and about People of Color already, but I’m going for 3/4 of all books I’ll read in 2016, so I thought I’d join in this important challenge. There’s 5 different levels, so everyone can take part really, and I’ve decided to go for the 5th Shelf: Read 25+ books.

Here’s 5 books on my tbr that would count for the challenge, but I know I’ll have lots of fun looking for all the works that would count for this challenge, so be prepared for more list posts.

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dirty river

bambera

haritaworn

Ashala wolf

What’s important to me is to read books by authors of color and non-white non-Western authors and not just books where white authors include characters of color. Hopefully I’ll read mostly books that are intersectional in their approach and include other axes of oppression, such as gender, sexuality, disability and empire. And I’m sure there’ll be lots of fun books, I know now that I’ll definitely find such diverse books in fantasy and YA literature.

I think 2016 will be a great reading year. Have a wonderful start to the new year!!! And let me know about your reading plans in the comments!

5 on a Theme: Afro-German Literature

November in the book blogosphere is German Literature Month. Although I haven’t managed to participate, every year I enjoy reading the book reviews and they always remind me to give German lit another try. Being German I’ve had a lot of contact with it in school and university, unfortunately the selections were mostly dead old white dudes and the discussions often pretentious and overly intellectual. So that pretty much scared me off, even though I know there has to be amazing literature I’m missing out on. If you know of German books that go beyond the normative, I’d love recommendations!

Anyway, I chose to major in American Studies and have never really looked back. Curiously enough, it was there that I encountered German literature again, in a class on Audre Lorde and Afro-Germans. I loved learning more about Germany’s history that wasn’t white-washed, and this is a part of German literature that is right up my alley.

Germany to this day considers itself to be a homogeneous white population and while white immigrant groups are sometimes assimilated into the culture, all of us who cannot pass will forever be asked where we are from. Because there is no German concept of People of Color, only ‘people with a migratory’ background. So you will find that a lot of the books I mention here deal with having to fight for being recognized as being German. But the fact is that Black Germans have been here since the 18th/19th century (this timeline comes from available archival documents)!

Since I often look for more diverse lists of German books, but find it frustrating that they are not easy to find, I thought I’d recommend 5 books of Afro-German literature to you. I restricted myself to works that present another perspective of German history and identity and deal explicitly with race (and are available in English/ English translation). Not because I require so-called minority authors to write about being Othered, but because it is a) a personal preference of mine to find similar experiences I can connect to and b) because I want Germans and everyone else to realize the diversity of German life and identity.

showing our colors

This ground-breaking publication from 1984 is edited by May Opitz (Ayim), Katharina Oguntoye and DagmarSchultz. Showing Our Colors collects stories from Black Germans that are bitter reckonings with their experiences of being made Other in post-WII Germany.

invisible woman

Ika Hügel-Marshall’s Invisible Woman: Growing Up Black in Germany is her memoir of growing up in Germany as what was then called a “Brown Baby.” These children of white German women and African-American soldiers complicated notions of Germanness in the especially problematic society of post-WWII.

Popoola-Also-by-mail_rbg_web

 Also by Mail by Olumide Popoola is a play about family first of all, but also about Black German identity and being the outsider. I’ve talked a bit about this one here.

may ayim

Blues in Black and White is a collection of the works of Black German writer and activist May Ayim. She was part of the Afro-German movement in the 80s and 90s and published amazing poetry, some of which has luckily been translated into English. She’s one of my favorite poets.

Massaquoi

Destined to Witness is a memoir by Hans J. Massaquoi, which chronicles his experiences as a Black German during the Third Reich and his later life in Liberia and the US. Massaquio’s work makes visible the experience of Black Germans during the Holocaust and his difficulty in fitting in any category. I recommend Clarence Lusane’s study Hitler’s Black Victims as a companion read to this.

I hope you’ll find something for your tbr in this list. I’m planning to do a series of ‘5 on a Theme’ posts and to make lists for diverse German literature that cover other identities and experiences, if anyone is interested in that. Also, I’d love some recommendations for diverse German books!

Thoughts: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti-Nnedi-Okorafor

In Dr. Nnedi Okorafor’s short novella, the eponymous Binti is only 16 years old, when she leaves her family to be the first of the Himba people to go to Oomza University. Managing to get onto the ship to Oomza, Binti starts settling into her new reality, only to find herself in the middle of the ongoing war with the Meduse (I won’t go into the details here, don’t want to spoil anyone!). In this spin on the classic coming-of-age story, Okorafor takes on racism, colonialism and imperialism, and most importantly envisions a fantastic future that isn’t white-washed.

Okorafor takes the Himba people of the Namib desert and aspects of their culture with her into her future. Having to manage water carefully, they use otjize to clean their bodies to protect hair and skin from drying out. The mixture of ochre and butter fat is also a great part of aesthetics and beauty standards and shows their connection to the land. Google to see images of Himba covered in otjize and look at that gorgeous cover of the book.

The Himba people in the novella do not leave their land and prefer to look inwards, they are extremely innovative and knowledgeable about technology and mathematics. Binti’s father passed down this knowledge to his daughter, who became a masterful harmonizer at the young age of 12. It is this skill that has landed Binti a place at Oomza. Binti is determined to take her place Oomza University even though she knows she will have to give up her family and never be accepted home again. And so, when Binti leaves, she takes a big pot of otjize with her.

Otjize comes to play an important part in how Binti manages to navigate both her identity and her encounter with the Meduse. But before that, she is confronted with the gaze of the Khoush (this group remains vague, but it is clear that they are lighter-skinned and used to being the dominant group among humans), who find her otjize repellant, smelly and try to touch her hair. For some of you this might sounds familiar.

With such a short work, I think each plot point goes a long way, so I won’t talk more about what happens once the Meduse take over the ship. But I can only encourage you take join Binti on her journey! I absolutely loved Binti, so I’m glad there are a lot more books by Okorafor waiting for me. Happily, my copy of Lagoon arrived yesterday, so I don’t even have to wait!

Other thoughts:

booksreenchanted

Read Diverse Books

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