Monday, April 25, 2016

Gabi, the amazing girl you wish you knew in high school

Isabel Quintero
I am not sure how I first heard about Isabel Quintero's novel, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces.  But whatever serendipitous circumstances finally worked to bring me and this book together, I'm grateful for them.  Gabi, A Girl in Pieces, is funny and heart-breaking and marvelous.

The book is written as a series of diary entries over Gabi's senior year of high school.  Gabi is an overweight Mexican-American girl in southern California.  Her father is a meth addict, her mom is a very traditional Mexican mother, her brother is angry, one of her best friends just came out and her other best friend is pregnant.  Through all this, Gabi applies to college, discovers a deep love for poetry, finds her own considerable creative genius, and deals with the complications of many boy problems.

I really loved reading this book.  Gabi is such a wonderful narrator.  She's smart, she's sassy, she's confident, she's loyal, and she's a great person with whom to spend a few hundred pages of teenage drama.  To give you a sense of her personality and why I would have loved to be her best friend in high school, here are a few quotes:
That's the magic of poetry - some gay Jewish poet wrote about people wasting away around him because of drugs, and I, a straight Mexican-American girl. know how he felt because I am seeing the same waste he witnessed over fifty years ago.  Ginsberg is talking about my dad in those first lines.  He didn't know it then, but he was. 

I feel bad about that, like I'm supposed to be lying in bed, distraught, eating an entire container of Chunky Monkey.  But I already did that last night.  And I think one night of crying for a guy I-think-I -really-like-but-am-not-so-sure-about-anymore is enough.

And my absolute favorite:
Then I looked myself straight in the eyes and said, "Gabi, get over it.  You look spectacular.  You look amazing, so stop your bitching or do something that makes you feel better."  I took a deep breath and took off my shorts and shirt and stepped out on that beach like I owned that shit and didn't give a fuck about all the skinny girls around me.  After a while, I didn't feel like an outsider and nobody made comments or even cared about what I looked like.  The other thing about being fat is that you spend too much damn time worrying about being fat and that takes time away from having fun.  But I decided today would be different.  And it was.
Gabi was such a breath of fresh air, and I loved her.  Quintero makes clear that Gabi is overweight and loves to eat, but she also makes clear that Gabi is extremely attractive to people.  She has no less than three guys after her over the course of this book, showing that even teenage guys are drawn to smart, confident women.  Gabi also is very secure in herself and her talent.  She has no issues with writing poetry and reciting it in front of other people.  You won't find long, angsty paragraphs here about not wanting other people to know about her family drama, or not wanting to attend an open mic night at a coffee shop because people won't think it's cool.  You'll find a girl who just STEALS THE SHOW.

It's because Gabi is such a fantastic narrator that this book doesn't ever get weighed down by all of the serious issues it confronts.  In some ways, it felt like Quintero tackled a bit too much in this book to give any one issue enough attention on its own.  But in other ways... maybe that's just what teenagers these days deal with all the time.

Quintero deftly juxtaposes Gabi's traditional upbringing and the expectations of her family against her newly-awakened feminism.  She does this with glorious references to feminist poetry, such as Sandra Cisneros' Loose Woman and Tracie Morris' Project Princess.  As someone who doesn't read a lot of poetry, all the references to poems in this book had me Googling all over the place, trying to find the poems that Gabi mentions so that I, too, can experience what she feels when she reads poetry.

There is so much more that is covered in this book; if I were to talk about all of it here, I'd be gushing on and on.  To me, Gabi's confidence and her budding feminism butting heads against her upbringing were the most memorable.  But there's something for everyone here, something that will resonate with you and remind you of your own childhood and your own insecurities and how you can face them.  Personally, I haven't owned a swimsuit in I don't know how many years.  (Mostly because I really don't like beaches, but also because, well, swimsuits are a pretty stressful piece of clothing to buy.)  But after reading Gabi's comments that I quoted above, I realize that, damnit, I can wear a swimsuit if I want to, and there's no reason to deny myself an enjoyable experience on the off-chance that someone else who probably sucks, anyway, will judge the way I look.  So there!

Seriously, read this book.


  1. I also think it's important to remember that Gabi doesn't go through all of those things--but the people around her are going through them. So it makes more sense that she would encounter them in that way.

    I'm glad you enjoyed the book, and your last paragraph made me really happy. Books! They change lives!

    1. Haha, GOOD POINT. Yes, Gabi doesn't suffer through all that stuff herself.

  2. I'm so glad you posted about this book. I need to get my hands on a copy ASAP!! It sounds right up my alley and I love how Gabi's confidence affected you :) Great post!

  3. Holy hell do I hate that cover! It's a good thing you posted such a glowing review, lady, because otherwise I probably wouldn't have picked this up. But OKAY. I can take instruction from one of my oldest blogging friends -- adding this to the list. I will always be there for books about teenagers having feminist awakenings. :D

  4. Like Nadia, I also think I need to read this sooner rather than later. Summer is coming and that's always a stressful time :) But for real, this sounds really interesting and I'm sure it'll make a great TV series.

  5. This sounds like one I'd like--all the poetry. Also, you go get yourself a swimsuit! Swimming is fun and too many women these days miss out on it!

  6. Bummed that my library doesn't have it, but I'll interlibrary loan it if I have to!


I read every comment posted on this blog, even if it sometimes takes me a while to respond. Thank you for taking the time and effort to comment here! Unless you are spamming me, in which case, thanks for nothing.