Can I just say that this book, while woefully ignored as far as copyedits are concerned (PLEASE let the print book be better than the Kindle edition, though I’m not holding my breath), is really fucking great and you should all read it?
Okay, I’ll also say more, because when do I ever say so little? So this book, Gabi, a Girl in Pieces (IB) by Isabel Quintero, is everything I could have used when I was a teenager, and I pretty damn well liked it and found it validating as an adult, too. It’s just the kind of book I like – realistic fiction, about a girl, about life. But what was amazing is that it only took about two pages to fall completely in love – or, more accurately, in identification.
You know how everyone who is a reader likes to talk about that book that turned them a reader? Or that book that said “You exist” to them? I can’t point to a single book in my life history where that happened. But this one comes pretty close. It comes close because it has a lot of the stuff that I’ve always loved in books but also been frustrated by in books.
First, it’s a diary. I always loved diary books growing up, because I kept a journal, and also because I’ve always been drawn to metafiction and the like. But most novels in diary entries tend toward the impossible, where entire conversations are relayed in real time and diary entries go on for 27 pages and claim to have been written during school lunch. This novel reads like my actual diary, by which I mean it’s a girl finding her voice, both in life and in keeping a diary, and she asks questions of herself and of her diary. I could probably play a game, like Is It Hannah’s or Gabi’s?, and pit lines from the book with lines from my own middle and high school journals, and I’d probably get everything wrong, because it all feels so much like a real teenager, not an author writing a fake diary. Not over the top sloppy, not entirely impossible. Just realistic.
Second, it’s about a Latina girl living in southern California, but the part of southern California that reminds me of the Southwest, not fancy LA, and I can only name two books I read as a tween or child that took place in the Southwest: Stargirl and I Am Lavina Cumming. This is huge. I am not joking in the slightest when I say that I really didn’t believe that a lot of indicators of seasons and weather and nature in books were fake and idealized when I was young, because children’s literature pretty much exclusively takes place in magical Midwest-meets-New-England-land. If you’re getting quirky, then it takes place in Northern California. If you’re dark and gritty, either Los Angeles’ underbelly or New York City. But never the Southwest, never Chicano California. Gabi lives in an area that is predominantly people like her, which is like most YA heroines, except that Gabi isn’t white and upper middle class, so that’s huge. She’s not even lower middle class, she’s working class, and she’s Latina, and she thinks she’s too light-skinned to be legit Chicana, which is a real thing but let’s be honest, no mainstream white people book would ever make that a thing. So not only is the geographic and climate setting something refreshingly different, but also, Gabi lives in a place where most people are like her, which is to say, everyone in Gabi’s world is more or less of the same socioeconomic status and ethnic background, so it IS the default. Nobody has tons of money, so being poor is not the issue in this novel. It’s of course a problem at times – Gabi really wants a new cell phone (because she has none for most of the book), and those cost lots of money; her father’s drug problem takes away any bit of extra money the family might have to spare; etc – but this isn’t a novel about how being poor sucks.
You know what else it’s not about? How being fat sucks. Gabi’s also fat, but it’s only an issue sometimes, like when her mom keeps harping on it. Otherwise, she gives a shit, because society says we must always give a shit if we’re not skinny, but she also doesn’t really let it define her, and she likes herself just fine most of the time, which is what normal people do. Like themselves a lot of the time, not so much other times, and sometimes love their bodies and sometimes don’t.
Is it fair to say that I love this book for everything it’s NOT about? Like how it has all the things that make the characters seem real, from real bodies to real sex positivity to real complicated relationships with parents to teen pregnancy without diminishing the very real intelligence and maturity of the pregnant teen (yes, she got pregnant. yes, she is a good friend to Gabi who gives her good advice. yes, she is still smart and a good student. yes, she knows the road ahead is hard. yes, she’s willing to work hard while on it.).
Good shit, this book. Necessary – without being medicine. Fresh and not forced. Funny. Smart. Sex-positive. Feminist. Culturally specific and not alienating or remedial. Wonderful stuff.