Review: Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces

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. — [X]

Once more, I am sneaking in books that don’t quite fit the monthly theme. But Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero is much too wonderful for me to ignore. Besides, even though much of the novel is epistolary, some of the most important bits (for me anyway) had to do with poetry: learning it, learning of it, writing it, and sharing it.

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. — Page 91

If you’re here, if you’re reading this, chances are you’ve felt the same way; the way that someone else’s words can be a balm for your soul.

And with Gabi, we really feel the truth of that strange sense of empathy. Her father is a meth addict, her talented artist of a brother is troublemaker, her mother is a worrier, and Gabi … Gabi loves food and boys and love and she is trying very, very hard to love herself. It’s just that the world is out make Gabi question everything from her body to her soul, whether it’s how she conducts herself with boys …

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 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 … But, of course, I can’t tell my mom that because she’ll think I’m bad. Or worse: trying to be White. — Page 1

… or how she looks:

Do you know that every time you point out how much weight I have to lose, I love myself less? — Page 142

And through it all– through her friend’s pregnancy and her other friend’s coming out– Gabi deals with a lot of firsts, with only poetry and her own sharp mind to guide her:

LOVE POEM INSPIRED BY MARTIN (AND ROBERT BURNS)

Do not forget about the thorns on the roses

when you say that love is like a red red rose …* — Page 231

There are so many things I loved about this book:

  • That. Cover. I love it so, so much. It says so much about Gabi’s conflicts while also serving as a commentary on body image and objectification. I kind of want a print of it to hang in my house. We see some more illustrations in this style in the novel when Gabi’s collection of poems are printed.
  • Some of the Spanish goes untranslated because Gabi is Mexican-American and so are most of her friends. I think it would have been rather jarring for immediate translations to follow what feels like very natural dialogue between characters. If you think it is alienating, well, good. Gabi is not white and English is not the only language she speaks– she’s different and Quintero isn’t in the business of pretending those differences don’t exist.
  • Gabi knows food. She isn’t snobby about it either and that only makes me love her more. Every mention made me drool a little.
  • Even though it is hard to see Gabi hurt for herself and for her loved ones, it is nice to see that Gabi has a character arc. She does not explode out of the first page, full formed and flawless. She has struggles and Quintero writes them out meticulously.
  • We get a few white-passing characters of colour in YA, but rarely do we see them struggle with what their appearances/actions mean versus what they actually define themselves as. Quintero deals with this very deftly. I loved these bits.

I’m looking at all the parts I’ve highlighted on my Kindle and I have to say that even though all these subjects I’ve mention above pervade every part of Gabi’s life (and consequently, the novel), Quintero’s writing really is like poetry: no wasting words, no mincing them. Just a few select words to get her point across and they race from the page (or screen, in my case) and settle in your head. Gabi, a Girl in Pieces is a rare treasure. I don’t care if you read it for Gabi, or for the pictures, or that one shining homage to your favourite classic poet– just read it.

*One of my favourites. Not gonna spoil it for you!