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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Book Haul: London + #VersoBooks Sale

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What’s a vacation without splurging on books? Exactly, that’s why I love city trips and especially the wonderful bookstores and charity shops in London. The only downside of my trip was that I could only take 10kg. I’m pretty sure security had a blast at my bookshelf in a bag, but what can you do. Here’s what I got in London (all links to goodreads):

jane And Prudence

Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym

This one was dirt cheap in a charity shop, so with my library not carrying any of her books, buying it used was actually the cheapest option. Life is weird!

rupi kaur

Milk & Honey by Rupi Kaur

Have loved so many poems by Rupi Kaur, I wanted to take a look at the whole collection.

rosemary and rue

Rosemary & Rue by Seanan McGuire

Also dirt cheap and I enjoyed this one. Now that I’v read more by McGuire I want to go back and see if the reading experience is different.

obelisk gate

The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin

I just had to get Jemisin’s new book while I had a book budget or I’d have gone green with envy!

depicting the veil

Depicting the Veil by Robin Lee Riley

A bit unsure about this one. It’s written by a white academic feminist, so we’ll see, though I do think it’s an important topic especially for feminists who are white to tackle and work through.

safe house

Safe House edited by Ellah Wakatama Allfrey

This one I had to get cause Whitney made it sound amazing. It’s creative non-fiction by writers from Africa, can’t wait to explore!

3body problem

The Three-Body Problem Cixin Liu, transl. by Ken Liu

Read this one already via Scribd, but it was really good and thought I’d get it for the shelves and a reread.

phoenix

The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor

Wanted to get Who Fears Death but they didn’t have it. Shame on you UK bookstores for not carrying more books by Okorafor.

let the right one in

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Queer horror for creepy season and also maybe a good read for the R.I.P. challenge.

decolonizing methodologies

Decolonizing Methodologies by Linda Tuhiwai Smith

This is a book I’ve been eyeing for quite a while and I just couldn’t resist any longer. It’s also a keeper for the library I’m trying to build.

*****

And then Verso Books had a flash sale of their e-books for 90% off, how to resist!? I got some works I’d wanted to try for a while and some I wasn’t sure enough about to buy a hardcopy of.

VersoHaul

Dominating Others: Feminism and Terror After the War On Terror by Christine Delphy

More adventures in exploring how feminists who are white take on Islamophobia and the war on terror. We’ll see how that goes, can’t say I’m a fan of the cover.

Serve the People: Making Asian America in the Long Sixties by Karen Ishizuka

This one I’m very excited about, it discusses the radical Asian American movement of the 60s.

The Muslims Are Coming!: Islamophobia, Extremism, And the Domestic War On Terror by Arun Kundnani

This one looks at the intersection of Islamophobia, policing and surveillance in the US while the war on terror supposedly only happened somewhere else.

Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter by Jordan T. Camp and Christina Heatheron, eds.

Very timely publication and I wanted to review this but with graduation I didn’t manage to finish before it archived on NetGalley. Well looks like I’ll get to finish the book finally, but less enthusiastic about NetGalley now.

Letters to Palestine: Writers Respond to War and Occupation by Vijay Prashad, ed.

This collection looks really great, it brings together voices Remi Kanazi, Robin D.G. Kelley, Teju Cole and Junot Díaz who discuss a growing awareness in the US of the sufferings of people in Gaza.

Traces of History: Elementary Structures of Race by Patrick Wolfe

This work examines regimes of race brought by colonizers and is written by an Australian academic who does settler colonial studies, so I’m hoping it doesn’t disappoint. Guess there’s a theme here of looking at what potential allies are writing.

Have you read any of these books? Let me know about new books on your shelves or your library stack!!

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!

October in Books

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October was a great reading month for me, I managed 10 books (counting 5 Lumberjanes issues as one book). Mostly this success is due to the readathon, my first one and which was a lot of fun.  Sadly, with the end of October also comes the end of two reading events: Diversiverse and R.I.P. X.

For Diversiverse, I read Attica Locke’s The Cutting Season and Also by Mail by Olumide Popoola. But I read more works by authors of color: The Good House by Tananarive Due, Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. Of course I won’t stop reading non-white authors now that the event is over and luckily there are tons of amazing recommendations to be found in the #Diversiverse tab on Aarti’s blog, take a look at this wonderful growing archive!

For me the creepy reading season basically goes till February, so I’m sad that R.I.P. X is over already. But I’ll continue with the suspenseful, eerie, creepy and terrifying…mwuahaha 😀 My creepy R.I.P. X reads in October were The Cutting Season (overlap with Diversiverse) and The Good House by Tananarive Due, and also the first Zombillenium comic. And I guess my Halloween reads The Walls Around Us and Halloween Party count as well. I’m only sad I didn’t manage to write up all the reviews, but hopefully that’ll get done in the next few weeks.

Looking at my list of books read, I just cannot pick a favorite. I enjoyed them all, and loved quite a lot of them. I knew I would love The Cutting Season and Also by Mail, but Aristotle and Dante really surprised me. Turns out I can do YA romance after all when it’s amazingly written LGBTIQ+ of color and about friendship. I also fell hard for Lumberjanes.

I don’t really have grand reading plans for November. I’m still pacing myself with The Fifth Season, which I fell for at the dedication page already. And then my birthday is on Sunday, so maybe there’ll be some new books for me to enjoy 🙂

Hope everyone had a great October! Any reading plans for November?

Lazy Sunday Reading

 

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A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

 

In the underground city of Caverna the world’s most skilled craftsmen toil in the darkness to create delicacies beyond compare – wines that can remove memories, cheeses that can make you hallucinate and perfumes that convince you to trust the wearer, even as they slit your throat. The people of Caverna are more ordinary, but for one thing: their faces are as blank as untouched snow. Expressions must be learned, and only the famous Facesmiths can teach a person to show (or fake) joy, despair or fear – at a price. Into this dark and distrustful world comes Neverfell, a little girl with no memory of her past and a face so terrifying to those around her that she must wear a mask at all times. For Neverfell’s emotions are as obvious on her face as those of the most skilled Facesmiths, though entirely genuine. And that makes her very dangerous indeed …” (amazon)