by Isabel Quintero
First sentence: “My mother named me Gabriela after my grandmother who — coincidentally — did not want to meet me when I was born because my mother was not married and was therefore living in sin.”
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Content: There’s a lot here: talk of drug use, sex (off screen, not graphic), and swearing (including multiple f-bombs). It’d be in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.
I didn’t know what to expect when I picked this up. I’d heard good things about it, and it won the Morris Award this year. Even so, I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of emotions I’d feel while reading it.
It’s Gabi Hernandez’s senior year, and life has gotten more complicated than usual. One of her best friends is pregnant; the other just came out, and has been kicked out of his parents’ house. She’s still struggling with math in school, but she has hopes that she can get into college, the first in her family, since her parents immigrated from Mexico. She wants a boyfriend, but is afraid since she’s a self-proclaimed “fat girl” that she’ll never find love. Then there’s her meth-addicted father, and her punk younger brother. Not to mention a mom who is constantly placing pressure on her to be a “good” girl.
Writing all that down, it both sounds like a lot and not quite enough to hold a book together. One of the things that makes this book shine is the voice. Told in diary form, we get Gabi’s innermost thoughts, her insecurities and feelings, her poems and heartfelt letters to her father (which she never sends). Even though her life is complicated and hard, you can’t help but connect with Gabi on the most elemental level: she’s just a girl trying to live the best she can.
But, it’s also a feminist book, showing us the double standard we have for girls and boys. Which leads me to: oh my gosh, her mom. I wanted to smack her. She was SO hard on Gabi, from nagging her constantly about her weight to lectures about sex (while she tells Gabi’s brother “be sure to use a condom”). I know she was trying and doing the best she could under the circumstances, but I wanted to shake her. Call this another one of those reverse-parenting books, but there is no way I want to have the sort of relationship with my daughter that Gabi had with her mom.
It was Gabi’s awakening to the double standard, and her actively trying to do something about it — which came near the end of the book –which endeared me to the book. There was so much crap going on (if there’s an issue out there that deals with teenagers, it was in the book) going on in Gabi’s life that I found it difficult, initially, to relate. But by the end, I was cheering for Gabi, for her attitude toward her life, and for Quintero’s unflinching portrayal of her.