Mini Review: Gabi!! Be my BFF! And then can we travel back in time to give this book to my 17 year old self!
Title: Gabi, A Girl In Pieces
Author: Isabel Quintero
Published: Cinco Puntos Press, 2014, 284 pages
Recommended if you like: Books with Diverse Characters, Novels in journal form, Positive depiction of fat girls, Empowered teen feminist girls, Zines/Spoken word poetry
Read-a-Like: Perks of Being a Wallflower, Jellicoe Road, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass
Rating: 6 out of 5 Scotchmallows
First Line: “My mother named me Gabriela after my grandmother who– coincidentally–didn’t want to meet me when I was born because my mother was not married and was 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 forms the basis of my sexual education.”
Oh Gabi, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways!
This book is basically perfect, y’all. I’m trying to think of something that could be better in this book and the only thing that comes to mind is that…. nope. Nothing. I can’t think of anything that could be better in this book.
The whole book can basically be summarized by this quote:
“It’s probably hard for [my mom] to have been raised in some pueblo in the 1970s where being good at housework and being pure were seen as necessary traits for being married– because that is what you were supposed to aspire to do. So it’s even harder (I’m guessing) to raise a Mexican-American daughter in Southern California in the 2000s, a girl who thinks that being good at housework and having an intact hymen are totally overrated.”
Things I love.
Gabi is the most/only outspokenly feminist character in YA I have ever encountered. She takes down rape culture with her poem Instructions for Understanding What ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ Really Means. Makes a zine (a zine, y’all a FUCKING ZINE!) titled The Female Body about all the things teen girls need to hear about their bodies but no one ever tells them. She smacks the shit out of a boy who totally deserves it at one point. She supports Sebastian coming out without trying to make him her purse dog, and takes down people who say stupid shit about him. She actually uses the words “you do you” at one point. Gabi talks loudly and repeatedly about a woman’s right to wear whatever she wants, say whatever she wants and do whatever she wants and how it’s total bullshit when there are different standards of behavior for boys/men and girls/women. When she decides to have sex she buys condoms, because she knows she shouldn’t depend on the guy to be ‘prepared.’ She doesn’t fancy the ladies herself but comments that there is nothing wrong with that. She accompanies a girl she doesn’t even like to get an abortion and supports her through it. She is my fucking hero. Oh if ONLY I had read this book when I was seventeen!
Gabi is Mexican American. A light skinned Mexican American. She talks about how people are always surprised that she speaks Spanish and how she gets sunburned super easily and how annoying it is to be whitewashed when she’s totally Mexican American. Have you ever seen the word “whitewashed” in a YA novel before? Because I really don’t think I have. A word used about YA novels, but not a girl pointing it out along with cultural appropriation and racism and being like ‘this is bullshit guys!’
Gabi is fat. She describes herself as fat. She talks about food. A lot.(And really made me want to eat some tacos.) She admits to being an emotional eater, using food to deal with her feelings, but in a *shrug*-I-really-like-Girl-Scout-Cookies-okay? kind of way and not a this-is-a-traumatic-confession kind of way. There are people around her who hassle her about losing weight, but she maintains a pretty well balanced self esteem about it,
“Sometimes I don’t want to see myself naked. Sometimes the mirror is my enemy. I mean, I would never dare ask it who the fairest of them all is because I know the response would make me weep. But sometimes I feel okay about how I look and even think, I’d tap that, why not?”
Fuck yeah, Gabi!
Tangentially– she simply is the weight that she is. The book is not about getting fat or getting thin. It’s about a girl who, among many other traits, describes herself as fat. And is as much okay about it as any of us are about any one attribute of our bodies at any one time.
Gabi’s world is real and has real problems. She isn’t limited to just one problem novel scenario. At first glance the list of things that touch her in a year may seem kind of like a lot: pregnant friend, another girl in school who gets an abortion, rape, drug addict for a father, gay best friend gets thrown out, dad dies, brother gets arrested. It’s a lot. Except in many teens life ALL these things DO happen. Teens lives are not a problem novel. Sometimes you barely have time to get over one shit storm before another hits.That’s what happens to Gabi and it’s so good for teens to see that.
Gabi has a few boyfriends, and, like, yay for a fat girl having more than one boyfriend!!! But Martin is clearly the winner. He respects her as a person, as a writer, and he DOESN’T EXPECT ANY COOKIES FOR THIS! He respects her body. And again, he just DOES and he doesn’t expect any props or rewards for being a decent fucking human being. He has condoms for them on prom night, but is clearly all about enthusiastic consent. He cares about her feelings and he loves her for who she is.
“No judgement here, Gabi. None. I love the person you are and wouldn’t want you to pretend to be something you’re not”
She writes some really awesome poetry. She compares love to a geranium rather than a rose. She deconstructs her father’s drug addiction. She analyzes why sometimes a grandparent dying after forgetting everyone is partly a relief. She also has the coolest teacher ever who encourages her to write about things — even things that she is not technically allowed to encourage Gabi to talk about because policy in public schools is dumb. She introduces them to Maya Angelou and Sandra Cisneros and ee cummings. When Gabi’s dad dies, she is the only one to address the elephant in the room.
“She tells me to write about it, that writing helps…She breaks the school rules– and hugs me as I cry all the tears I’ve been trying to hold back at school.”
(No, YOU’RE crying at that line that brings back all the feelings you had as a former teacher in a rough area.)
Palabras en Español
Gabi is Mexican American, so it makes sense that she speaks Spanish, right? She talks about how her poetry teacher told them they could put Spanish words into a largely English poem and she was surprised. Likewise, the author has Gabi write sometimes in Spanish. Sometimes she recounts what people say to her, and sometimes it is her own commentary. Now, I’m not a Spanish speaker. I know just barely enough which, cobbled together with my opera singer Italian, gives insight to a few words. But even so, I never felt lost. Even so, I always understood what she was saying. And also it is very good for me as a privileged white person to have to look up a word or two, to have jokes that I’m not in on. ITS OKAY IF NOT EVERYTHING IS ABOUT WHITE AMERICAN CULTURE Y’ALL! And for a Spanish speaking teen– what a validation it must be to see both halves of your cultural identity so clearly represented.
Gabi feels real. She is walking contradictions. She is emotions and hormones but also a careful and contemplative person. She is a fiercely loyal person. She is a generous and protective friend. She has a realistic view of the world while still believing that it can be wonderful.
I want to be her BFF. We can sit in my apartment writing poems and eating Girl Scout Cookies FOREVER!!