Okay, so technically I didn’t just read this – it was one of this year’s nominees for the Morris Award for best young adult debut, so I read it before they announced the winners on February 2. As a matter of fact, it was my favorite Morris award nominee this year, which makes it that much more exciting that it won! It was a much-deserved win, and I expect many more great things from Isabel Quintero.
What I Just Read: Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
What’s It About (Jacket Description): Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy’s pregnancy, Sebastian’s coming out, the cute boys, her father’s meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.
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.
Did I Like It: Yes – the award win was well deserved!
Thoughts: Well if this wasn’t clear already, I loved this book. The biggest reason is Gabi herself, which isn’t surprising since the book is in diary format. If you don’t love the main character, it’s pretty hard to get into a book like this. Luckily, Gabi is immediately likable and relatable. She’s far from perfect, but she reads exactly like someone I could have known in high school, like someone I could still know. She is smart and loving and loyal, but she screws up sometimes. Her questioning of the world around her, of the double standards she is faced with every day, was fascinating to read. How she deals with the crises of her friends is beautiful. She sticks by them no matter what, and never allows the questions and thoughts they raise pertaining to her life to overshadow the fact that these are her friends’ issues, and she is just a side character in their stories (just as they are side characters in her story.) She also tackles a difficult family life with grace and humor. Even when her mother and aunt drive her insane, or she’s angry at her brother, or worried about her dad, she always remembers that they are her family and she loves them.
Because the book is a diary, if Gabi’s thoughts about gender, sexuality, her body, Mexican-American culture, and everything else she writes about weren’t interesting, this book would have gotten boring really fast. Luckily, I could have read an entire book that was just Gabi thinking about these issues, so Quintero holds a reader’s interest even when writing about things that aren’t strictly plot. And of course, there are the side characters – we don’t hear their voices the same way as Gabi’s, or see as much of their lives, but I’m pretty sure I would read a book about each and every one of them. They are all interesting, well-developed, nuanced characters, and they do a fantastic job of filling out Gabi’s world.
There’s so much more I could say, but won’t because I’d be wasting time you could be spending reading Gabi, A Girl in Pieces. There’s a reason this book won a major award and landed on several best-of year end lists. Actually, there are many reasons! So do yourself a favor, and read Gabi, A Girl in Pieces as soon as possible!