“Living a lie is painful, and doesn’t do anyone any good. I had to be true to myself, because, either way, God would know if I was lying.”
Title: Gabi, a Girl in Pieces
Author: Isabel Quintero
Publication: October 14th 2014 by Cinco Puntos Press
Summary from Goodreads:
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.
Gabi, a Girl in Pieces covers a wide variety of topics: fat shaming, multiculturalism, identity, rape, rape culture, abortion, death, drug use, sexual orientation. The story covers many topics, but it does so in a way that both highlights the issues and relates them to teens. It paints a broad canvas with vibrant, innovative, and much needed colors.
Gabi, a Girl in Pieces follows, Gabi, a self-proclaimed – mother shamed – fat girl who is just trying to finish her senior year of high school. Readers follow her from months before the new school year till graduation, privy to the regular drama and the not-so-normal events that people forget are daily occurrences in some teen’s lives.
The major conflicts center around Gabi’s internal battle with her body image and her identity. She longs to go away for college, to escape, but her mother refuses to let go and always claims that if she leaves, she will never be allowed back. There are multiple minor conflicts, too. Gabi is witness to her father’s drug addiction and consequent death, she is witness to her best friend’s pregnancy after she is raped, another less-of-a-friend’s pregnancy and abortion, her other friend struggling with his sexuality, and the racism that is, sadly, still very much a part of our society. However, there is so much more beyond that. Not only is Gabi dealing with these a little out of the ordinary (but not really) issues, she is simultaneously trying to live a normal life: classes, homework, boy troubles, college applications, oh my.
The most obvious theme is the theme of identity within Gabi. She is torn between her family’s Mexican heritage and the fact that she was born in America. This is a powerful message, one that isn’t shared as often as it should be. In addition, there is a surprisingly close examination of rape culture. Considering I am doing rape culture for my final project, I was pleasantly surprised when it was included. I thought Gabi’s zine, her internal monologue, and her list of ‘boys will be boys’ was perhaps the most powerful and poignant part of the novel. It wasn’t the main focus, and that is why it was so hard hitting – at least to me. The multiple interwoven issues within this story are all important, but balancing between hard hitting issues like rape and drug usage with commonplace ideas of going on a first date brought a level of depth to this book I wasn’t expecting and I ended up thoroughly enjoying.
The young adults as characters in this book are very important, I think. The portrayal is honest in a way some books seem to lack. While I might not have personally like the characters, I liked their portrayal in terms of the book itself. The teens, like Gabi and Cindy and Sebastian, are multidimensional. They aren’t focused only on school or a particular end goal, and their goals change. They see and hear more than we think teens would, and they handle it just as they handle other hard issues in their lives. In addition to handling hard topics some adults don’t even want to face, as we can see from Gabi’s mother mostly refusing to acknowledge her husband’s drug addiction, these teens are also undeniably teenagers. They struggle with going to class, with which boy to date or ask to the prom, and with their own impulsiveness at points. They are real, diverse, and more than what they seem on the surface.
One of the primary focuses of Gabi, a Girl in Pieces is the multiculturalism within Gabi herself and her community. This is seen clearly in her September 16th diary entry on pages 34 and 35. Gabi states: “Being Mexican-American is tough sometimes. Your allegiance is always questioned. My mom constantly worries that I will be too Americana.” Furthermore, Gabi explains how she is proud of her Mexican culture, but she hates how she is always questioned because she isn’t Mexican enough. She talks about how “Sandra and Sebastian carry their culture on their skin like a museum exhibit to ohhh and ahhhhh at” while she has “skin that makes people say, ‘you’re not what a Mexican’s supposed to look like.” (36) Gabi’s identity is always being questioned because of her outward appearance, but it is questioned on all sides – even by her own family. In regard to social justice issues, my favorite part of this book was Gabi’s examination on rape culture. After she finds out Cindy was raped, Gabi gives a list of instructions for understanding what “boys will be boys” means. Not only is it an important topic, she hands it to the readers with brutal honesty. Her numbered list includes: “if you drink too much, your body is fair game,” “She was wearing that little dress (remember?), and boys will be boys, after all”, “It’s not rape if she said yes first,” “Otherwise she wouldn’t have teased you,” If he doesn’t beat you up, it’s not really rape,” and “It’s your fault. Even if you’re disabled, old or young. You should know better.” (229 – 231) Each is a comment against rape culture and victim blaming, and it is a brutal acknowledgement of common excuses and ideas perpetrated in our society.
In this title, the teenage experience is, as beautifully summed up by Gabi and Sebastian, about loving yourself and the others around you for who they are. It is a period of discovery and beginnings and firsts, and it is unique to you. Sebastian tells Gabi that “people are who they are no matter how much you want them to be somebody else, Gabi. And we have two choices: love and accept them with all their faults.” (278) Sebastian’s comment goes both ways, in my opinion. You need to love yourself, too, even if you want to be like someone else – and Gabi realizes this at the end of the novel when she tells people they can kiss her ass rather than try and change her.
The most prevalent technique in this novel is the formatting, the chapters are diary entries. The diary entries are a mixture of lengths, they are long and short and sometimes they don’t even last a full page. The voice is utterly engaging because it is told by a teen to her own diary, which brings the reader into the story on a personal level.
Gabi, a Girl in Pieces is a book that is both a window and a mirror. Everyone can relate to Gabi’s struggles at school: homework, prom, boys. On the other hand, Gabi’s identity as a Mexican-American is a window into a culture beyond that of the reader’s – at least for someone like me, it is. This is a book of insight, for it highlights a different culture in a way that makes it relatable to all who read it while also educating the reader about the differences.
Gabi, a Girl in Pieces, while not my favorite book I’ve ever read, is incredibly important regardless of my personal likes and dislikes. I didn’t like Gabi as a character, but I respect her as a person – and that alone showed me more than I thought it would. Through my own opinions about this book, I learned that it is possible to respect someone even though you may not like them.