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Gabi, A Girl In Pieces

Kirkus Review 1 Stars
"Readers won't soon forget Gabi, a young woman coming into her own in the face of intense pressure from her family, culture and society to fit someone else's idea of what it means to be a "good" girl. A fresh, authentic and honest exploration of contemporary Latina identity."
"Struggles with body image, teen pregnancy, drug addiction, rape, coming out, first love and death are all experiences that touch Gabi's life in some way during her senior year, and she processes her raw and honest feelings in her journal as these events unfold.

Gabi's family life is unbalanced. Her father is a drug addict who comes in and out of her life sporadically. Her mother tries desperately to keep her tethered to the values of her traditional Mexican heritage. Gabi's weight, her desire to go away to college and her blossoming sexuality are all at odds with what she feels are expected from her as a young Mexican-American woman. The teen is deeply bonded with her two best friends, Cindy and Sebastian, who each struggle themselves with the tension between sexuality and culture. Through poetry, Gabi finds her voice and develops the confidence to be true to herself. With this first novel, Quintero excels at presenting a life that is simultaneously messy and hopeful. Readers won't soon forget Gabi, a young woman coming into her own in the face of intense pressure from her family, culture and society to fit someone else's idea of what it means to be a "good" girl.

A fresh, authentic and honest exploration of contemporary Latina identity. "
- July 16, 2014  Visit Website
Booklist 1 Stars
"Reading Quintero’s debut is like attending a large family fiesta: it’s overpopulated with people, noise, and emotion, but the overall effect is joyous."
Reading Quintero’s debut is like attending a large family fiesta: it’s overpopulated with people, noise, and emotion, but the overall effect is joyous. Presented as the diary of 17-year-old Mexican-American Gabi, it covers a senior year ostensibly filled with travail, from a first kiss to first sex; from dealing with a methhead father to a constantly shaming mother; from the pregnancy of two classmates to Gabi’s own fear of becoming “Hispanic Teen Mom #3,789,258.” But that makes the book sound pedantic, and it’s anything but. Unlike most diary-format novels, this truly feels like the product of a teenager used to dealing with a lot of life’s b.s. Sure, she’s depressed at times, but just as often she’s giddy with excitement about her new boyfriend (and then the one after that) or shrugging at the weight she just doesn’t feel like losing. If there is a structuring element, it’s the confidence-building poems Gabi writes for composition class, which read just like the uncertain early work of a nonetheless talented fledging writer. Quintero, on the other hand, is utterly confident, gifting us with a messy, complicated protagonist who isn’t defined by ethnicity, class, weight, or lifestyle. Gabi is purely herself—and that’s what makes her universal.
— Daniel Kraus
- Daniel Kraus, September 15, 2014 
Publishers Weekly 1 Stars
"Quintero’s first novel quickly establishes a strong voice and Mexican-American cultural perspective through the journal of intelligent, self-deprecating, and funny Gabi."
Quintero’s first novel quickly establishes a strong voice and Mexican-American cultural perspective through the journal of intelligent, self-deprecating, and funny Gabi. The 17-year-old is navigating considerable conflict both at home and in her social life: her father is addicted to meth, while Gabi’s strict mother pressures her to conform to her own views of their heritage and values. Gabi, who seeks comfort through binge eating, wants to grow up on her own terms, and she explores her awakening romantic and sexual feelings by writing poetry. Quintero unsentimentally confronts a gay teenager’s coming out, teen pregnancy, date rape, abortion, addiction, and other topics while sketching the contradictory pressures facing Gabi, who feels caught between two worlds (“Being Mexican-American is tough sometimes. Your allegiance is always questioned”). Gabi’s letters to her father are particularly moving, and her narration is fresh, self-aware, and reflective. The intimate journal structure of the novel is especially revealing as Gabi gains confidence in her own integrity and complexity: “I guess there is more to this fat girl than even this fat girl ever knew.” Ages 14–up. (Oct.)
- September 29, 2014  Visit Website
NPR Weekend Reads
"Gabi's voice is a completely bicultural and bilingual voice, so throughout the novel, you will have Spanish and English the way it's really spoken in our families — it's this crazy sort of Spanglish mix. And she's bold. She will say the quote-unquote unthinkable things about her body, about sexuality, about the crazy, dual sets of rules for Latino boys and girls.”
This Weekend, Pick Up The Pieces With 'Gabi'
By Meg Medina
When we meet 17-year-old Gabi Hernandez, she's a senior in high school who's suffering from all the typical teenage problems. Dysfunctional family: Check. Rampaging hormones: Check. Low self-esteem: Check.
On top of all that, Gabi has to negotiate two cultures and two very different sets of rules for girls and boys. She's the protagonist in our latest Weekend Read: Isabel Quintero's debut novel, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces.
Award-winning writer Meg Medina (her most recent young adult novel is Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass) says Quintero's writing "gets at everything, all at once."

On what makes Gabi special
"Gabi's voice is a completely bicultural and bilingual voice, so throughout the novel, you will have Spanish and English the way it's really spoken in our families — it's this crazy sort of Spanglish mix. And she's bold. She will say the quote-unquote unthinkable things about her body, about sexuality, about the crazy, dual sets of rules for Latino boys and girls. ...
There's a stereotype and an expectation that the Latino boy is going to roam, that he's going to be sexually active and curious, that in fact that's what makes him muy macho, a big man. But when we turn to the young women, suddenly, we call that cochinadas, dirty things ... and Gabi herself says it in the novel ... "you know, for my mother, a woman's whole value is what's between her legs. And once a man has access to that, she has no more value."
On Gabi's relationship with her mother
I think that non-Latino readers will be shocked to think, why doesn't her mother want her to go off to college. Well, what's really funny is while I was reading this, I remembered when it was time for me to go to college, and I had said to my mother that I might go ... not far, but it was, "are you crazy? Why would you do that? Why would you not, you know, live at home with your family until you're married?" That's what you're supposed to do. It's just a really difficult set of realities to try to live with ... and that's one of the things I really loved about this book as well, because I think Latina girls reading this are going to see their families in this.
On the complex issues Gabi deals with
I think there are many authors — and Isabel sits squarely in this group — who don't shy away from telling young people the truth. Who are producing work for young women that really dignifies their intelligence and dignifies their experience.
—Award-winning writer Meg Medina, author of Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass
- Meg Medina , December 14, 2014  Visit Website
The Guardian
"Told through Gabi’s diary, the book is tragic, hilarious, and always whip-smart. It’s also, I’m sure, one of the most diverse and all-encompassing YA novels out there."
Ten Must-Read YA Novels You've Probably Never Heard Of

Just like adult fiction, popular YA books such as The Hunger Games or Divergent are not representative of the sheer diversity of titles and authors out there. John Hansen, creator of #VeryRealisticYA, explores some of the totally unique YA books you’ve probably not come across but really ought to look up…

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
Isabel Quintero’s novel feels like an anthology of high school issues: body image (Gabi’s), teen pregnancy (her best friend’s), coming out (her other best friend’s), strict religion (her aunt’s), drug addiction (her father’s), poetry, and worries about college (both Gabi’s). Told through Gabi’s diary, the book is tragic, hilarious, and always whip-smart. It’s also, I’m sure, one of the most diverse and all-encompassing YA novels out there.
- John Hansen, August 12, 2015  Visit Website
School Library Journal 1 Stars
"Believing she's not Mexican enough for her family and not white enough for Berkeley, Gabi still meets every challenge head-on with vulgar humor and raw honesty… A refreshing take on slut- and fat-shaming, Quintero's work ranks with Meg Medina's Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass (Candlewick, 2013) and Junot Diaz's Drown (Riverhead, 1996) as a coming-of-age novel with Latino protagonists."
Gr 9 Up-Sixteen-year-old Gabi Hernandez has a lot to deal with during her senior year. Her best friend Cindy is pregnant; her other best friend Sebastian just got kicked out of his house for coming out to his strict parents; her meth addict dad is trying to quit, again; and her super religious Tia Bertha is constantly putting a damper on Gabi's love life. In lyrical diary entries peppered with the burgeoning poet's writing, Spanglish, and phone conversations, Quintero gives voice to a complex, not always likable but totally believable teen who struggles to figure out her own place in the world. Believing she's not Mexican enough for her family and not white enough for Berkeley, Gabi still meets every challenge head-on with vulgar humor and raw honesty. In moments, the diary format may come across as clunky, but the choppy delivery feels purposeful. While the narrative is chock-full of issues, they never bog down the story, interwoven with the usual teen trials, from underwhelming first dates to an unabashed treatment of sex, religion, and family strife. The teen isn't all snark; there's still a naivete about whether her father will ever kick his addiction to meth, especially evident in her heartfelt letters to him. When tragedy strikes, readers will mourn with Gabi and connect with her fears about college acceptance and her first sexual experience. A refreshing take on slut- and fat-shaming, Quintero's work ranks with Meg Medina's Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass (Candlewick, 2013) and Junot Diaz's Drown (Riverhead, 1996) as a coming-of-age novel with Latino protagonists.-Shelley Diaz, School LibraryJournal (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
- Shelley Diaz, August 1, 2014 
VOYA Magazine 4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars
"While reflecting the specific experiences of one overweight, Mexican-American teenager, Quintero’s debut novel addresses a number of universal themes, from family relationships to sexual exploration. Gabi’s voice, as expressed in her diary through poetry, prose, lists, and overheard conversations, is funny, smart, full of wonder, and brutally honest."
Complete Review: 4Q 4P S
Quintero, Isabel. Gabi: A Girl in Pieces. Cinco Puntos, 2014. 208p. $17.95. 978-1-935955-94-8.

School has not even started yet, and already Gabriela (Gabi) Hernandez’s senior year is amping up the stress levels. She has best friend problems—one just found out she is pregnant, the other finds himself homeless after telling his parents he is gay. She also has family issues of her own to deal with, specifically her drug-addicted father; a mother whose idea of sex education is “ojos abiertos, piernas cerradas” (eyes open, legs closed); and a little brother who seems determined to follow the path of delinquency. Of course, there are AP classes, passing Algebra 2, and college applications to keep up with, as well as hopes for romance and a date to prom. Food has always been Gabi’s go-to method for dealing with stress, but this year she has found another outlet: poetry.
While reflecting the specific experiences of one overweight, Mexican-American teenager, Quintero’s debut novel addresses a number of universal themes, from family relationships to sexual exploration. Gabi’s voice, as expressed in her diary through poetry, prose, lists, and overheard conversations, is funny, smart, full of wonder, and brutally honest. Her thoughtful, slightly irreverent “Diagram of the Female Body” is a brilliant exploration of the conflicting expectations shoved on today’s young women. Give this to girls of all sizes—“gorditas, flaquitas, and in-between”—who like their heavy topics sweetened with a touch of humor and candor.—Heather Christensen.
- Heather Christensen, 
Juan Felipe Herrera, Poet Laureate of California
"Meet Quintero’s “fat girl” Gabi, eating and starving and fighting and writing her way through the crushing pressures of high school boy desire, religious approval and Mexican cultural taboos. I cannot think of any book today for young adults as voracious, bold, truthful and timely."
Largehearted Boy
"One of the year's finest young adult novels."
- October 17, 2014  Visit Website
The Pirate Tree
“Quintero’s novel shows that some of the most interesting, innovative, and honest titles come from the small press world. … Award committees take note—this is an amazing novel from a bright new star.”
Coming of Age with “Gabi: A Girl in Pieces”
By Lyn Miller-Lachmann
As I’ve made my way through the dozens of books nominated for the Cybils Award in YA Fiction—I’m now up to 55—a few books have come to stand out. I’ve already reviewed some and will be focusing on others in the next couple of months. One of my favorites is Isabel Quintero’s debut novel, Gabi: A Girl in Pieces, published by Cinco Puntos Press. Quintero’s novel shows that some of the most interesting, innovative, and honest titles come from the small press world.
Gabi: A Girl in Pieces chronicles Gabi Hernandez’s senior year in high school. Because she skipped a year, she is a little younger than her peers, and she watches as many of them take risks and make difficult or outright bad choices. The story begins with her best friend Cindy’s unplanned pregnancy—the result, Cindy later reveals, of a date rape. Gabi’s mother (and many other mothers in their community) got pregnant by accident and either had children out of wedlock or married too young, and they warn their daughters : “‘Ojos abiertos, piernas cerradas,’ Eyes open, legs closed.” Still, the girls live in a hypersexualized environment that reinforces traditional gender roles and the double standard for men and women. Gabi chafes against the hypocrisy, as does her other best friend Sebastian, who is kicked out of his house because he is gay. Gabi’s mother struggles to support the family while her father battles a meth addiction. Gabi’s efforts to connect with her father and to remember the good times are among the most poignant parts of a beautifully written and emotionally gripping story.
Gabi’s voice, her spunk, and her growing acceptance of who she is—a fat girl who seeks comfort in food while trying to live life on her own terms—give Quintero’s novel the kind of unforgettable quality that has made Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian a classic for teen and adult readers. Gabi: A Girl in Pieces shares the structure of a yearlong diary and a story that moves forward through vignettes. Like Junior in Alexie’s novel, Gabi juggles her own ambitions with the expectations her community and the wider society have for her, and she does a superb job of exploring the tangle of gender roles, body image, and sexuality that teenage girls face. But while Quintero explores universal themes, well-chosen details give this novel a cultural specificity and richness so that it speaks directly to young Latinas while allowing others into the world of its author and protagonist. Award committees take note—this is an amazing novel from a bright new star.
- Lyn Miller-Lachmann, November 17, 2014  Visit Website
The Harold Sun
“The author creates a strong sense of character and realistically portrays Gabi’s challenging settings. The way [Isabel] Quintero portrays the heroine’s moment-to-moment moods feels completely authentic.”
Susie Wilde: Quintero’s ‘Gabi’ is beautifully written
BY SUSIE WILDE, Columnist
The 2013 children’s book awards were particularly devoid of diversity and I was one of many children’s book aficionados who despaired. I wondered if we’d ever have the broad literary representation I wanted to see. I longed for the unique perspectives of genuine characters who came from a multitude of backgrounds. Last week the American Library Association met and various committees announced the 2014 awards. So many of these granted my wish that this year boasts a wealth of just the kind of books I want read and hope that children will discover.
One of my favorites, Isabel Quintero’s “Gabi, A Girl in Pieces,” won the William C. Morris award for best young adult debut novel (book from Cinco Puntos Press; audio from Listening Library, approximately 8 hours; ages 14 and up).
Gabi, a 17-year-old Mexican-American high school senior, fills her diary with vivid entries that constantly change in tone. The author creates a strong sense of character and realistically portrays Gabi’s challenging settings. The way Quintero portrays the heroine’s moment-to-moment moods feels completely authentic. In one diary entry we see Gabi joyous about a burgeoning love. In another, she’s concerned about a pregnant peer who she has previously mocked. Gabi hopes for an acceptance from Berkeley, composes powerful poems, and pours out her horror at finding her father curled up dead in their garage, meth pipe still in his hand.
Quintero’s writing is beautifully complimented by the excellent narration of Kyla Garcia. Garcia moves easily between the English and Spanish languages that twine lyrically. These give the narrative a musical tone and, at the same, describe accurately how Gabi struggles to balance both cultures. With equal aplomb, Garcia captures the many pieces of Gabi.
At moments, she voices the self-deprecating, snarky humor of a girl who sees herself in a dress that “makes her look like an overstuffed carne asada…an overstuffed piñata with all the candy whacked out if it.” Gabi maintains a strong sense of self despite the shame her mother dishes out. Garcia sounds tearful when Gabi writes a letter to a father who’s “too high to read it” and quickly shifts as the protagonist does, expressing disgust, fear-and helplessness all at the same time.
The sum of Gabi is far greater than her many pieces. She is the fat girl who doesn’t lose weight by book’s end. She’s the young woman who’s not afraid to physically fight a cocky boy who has wronged her friend. Gabi is eloquent and messy, smart in school, but not wise enough to restrain her emotions as she comes to terms with her cultural heritage, changes in friendships and sexual blossoming. The book and narration are a rich mix of courageous starts and frustrating falls, pure and sexually confusing love, and a girl who is actively interpreting and defining herself.
This is a book filled with problems, but is by no means a problem novel. Like Gabi, it’s hard to define. That’s what gives this story freshness and complexity.
- Susie Wild, February 14, 2015  Visit Website
Literacy Daily
California high school senior Gabriela (Gabi Hernanadez) is caught between not being Mexican enough and gravitating toward the things white girls do — at least according to her mother. To make sense of her world, she keeps a journal about her own struggles with self-esteem and related weight issues, also writing about her best friend Cindy’s pregnancy and her other best friend Sebastian’s coming out to his family. —Karen Hildebrand, Literacy Daily
2015 Award-Winning Books
by Karen Hildebrand
‘Tis the season for book awards! All year educators, librarians, publishers, booksellers, and students wait to hear about the best of the best from the previous publishing year. Various organizations and journals compile their “bests” and share them with readers. Libraries hold “mock” Newbery and Caldecott elections to allow local readers to have a vote for their favorites. Here are some of the most recent award winners, all published in 2014. Annotations are provided from publisher notes. Honor book selections can be seen by clicking on the link for each book award.

Caldecott Medal Winner 2015
Santat, Dan. The Adventures of Beekle. Boston, MA: Little Brown and Company.
This magical story begins on an island far away where an imaginary friend is born. He patiently waits his turn to be chosen by a real child, but when he is overlooked time and again, he sets off on an incredible journey to the bustling city, where he finally meets his perfect match and—at long last—is given his special name: Beekle.

Newbery Medal Award 2015
Alexander, Kwame. The Crossover. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
“With a bolt of lightning on my kicks… The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I’m delivering,” announces dread-locked, 12-year-old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he’s got mad beats, too, that tell his family’s story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood from Kwame Alexander.

Coretta Scott King Awards 2015
Woodson, Jacqueline. Brown Girl Dreaming. New York, NY: Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Group.
Jacqueline Woodson won Best Author (in addition to a number of other accolades) for her memoir in free verse poetry. From an earlier CLR review, “Woodson’s memoir is a testament to the power of family connections, hope in the face of tragedy and the liberating force of writing.”

Copeland, Misty. Firebird. Illus. by Chrisopher Myers. New York, NY: G.P. Putnam/Penguin Group.
In her debut picture book, Misty Copeland’s debut book won Best Illustrator for Christopher Myers. The story tells of a young girl — an every girl — whose confidence is fragile and who is questioning her own ability to reach the heights that Misty has reached. Misty encourages this young girl’s faith in herself and shows her exactly how, through hard work and dedication, she too can become Firebird.

John Steptoe New Talent Award 2015
Reynolds, Jason. When I Was the Greatest. New York, NY: Atheneum Books/Simon & Schuster.
Ali lives in Bed-Stuy, a Brooklyn neighborhood known for guns and drugs, but he and his sister, Jazz, and their neighbors, Needles and Noodles, stay out of trouble until they go to the wrong party, where one gets badly hurt and another leaves with a target on his back.

Michael L. Printz Award 2015
Nelson, Jandy. I’ll Give You the Sun. New York, NY: Dial Books/Penguin Group.
“A story of first love, family, loss, and betrayal told from different points in time, and in separate voices, by artists Jude and her twin brother Noah.”

Schneider Family Book Award 2015
Rabinowitz, Alan. A Boy and a Jaguar. Illus. by Catia Chien. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Alan loves animals, but the great cat house at the Bronx Zoo makes him sad. Why are they all alone in empty cages? Are they being punished? More than anything, he wants to be their champion — their voice — but he stutters uncontrollably. Except when he talks to animals, then he is fluent. Follow the life of the man Time Magazine calls, “the Indiana Jones of wildlife conservation” as he searches for his voice and fulfills a promise to speak for animals, and people, who cannot speak for themelves.

Mildred L. Bachelder Award 2015
Tak, Bibi Dumon. Mikis and the Donkey. Illus. by Philip Hopman. Translated by Laura Watkinson. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.
One day, Mikis’s grandfather has a surprise for him: a new donkey. Mikis falls in love with the creature, but his grandparents tell him the donkey is a working animal, not a pet. However, they still let Mikis choose her name — Tsaki — and allow the two of them to spend their Sundays together. Mikis and Tsaki soon become fast friends, and together the two have some grand adventures. Eventually, both Mikis and his grandfather learn a bit more about what exactly it means to care for another creature.

Pura Belpré Award 2015
Morales, Yuyi. Viva Frida. New York, NY: Roaring Brook Press/Neal Porter.
These book garnered a best illustrator prize. Frida Kahlo, one of the world’s most famous and unusual artists is revered around the world. Her life was filled with laughter, love, and tragedy, all of which influenced what she painted on her canvases.

Agosin, Marjorie. I Lived on Butterfly Hill. Illus. by Lee White. New York, NY: Atheneum Books/Simon & Schuster.
Agosin received the best author award for I Lived on Butterfly Hill. When her beloved country, Chile, is taken over by a militaristic, sadistic government, Celeste is sent to America for her safety and her parents must go into hiding before they “disappear.”

Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award 2015
Bryant, Jen. The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus. Illus. by Melissa Sweet. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.
For shy young Peter Mark Roget, books were the best companions—and it wasn’t long before Peter began writing his own book. But he didn’t write stories; he wrote lists. Peter took his love for words and turned it to organizing ideas and finding exactly the right word to express just what he thought. His lists grew and grew, eventually turning into one of the most important reference books of all time. Readers of all ages will marvel at Roget’s life, depicted through lyrical text and brilliantly detailed illustrations.

Stonewall Book Award 2015
Pitman, Gayle E. This Day in June. Illus. by Kristyna Litten. Washington, DC: Magination Press/American Psychological Association.
“In a wildly whimsical, validating, and exuberant reflection of the LGBT community, this title welcomes readers to experience a pride celebration and share in a day when we are all united. Also included is a reading guide chock-full of facts about LGBT history and culture, as well as the ‘Note to Parents and Caregivers’ with information on how to talk to children about sexual orientation and gender identity in age-appropriate ways.”

Theodor Seuss Geisel Award 2015
Kang, Anna. You Are (Not) Small. Illus. by Christopher Weyant. New York, NY: Two Lions, New York.
Two fuzzy creatures can’t agree on who is small and who is big, until a couple of surprise guests show up, settling it once and for all! The simple text of Anna Kang and bold illustrations of New Yorker cartoonist Christopher Weyant tell an original and very funny story about size—it all depends on who is standing next to you.

William C. Morris Award 2015
Quintero, Isabel. Gabi, a Girl in Pieces. El Paso, TX: Cinco Puntos Press.
From an earlier CLR review: California high school senior Gabriela (Gabi Hernanadez) is caught between not being Mexican enough and gravitating toward the things white girls do—at least according to her mother. To make sense of her world, she keeps a journal about her own struggles with self-esteem and related weight issues, also writing about her best friend Cindy’s pregnancy and her other best friend Sebastian’s coming out to his family.

YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction 2015; Van Wagenen, Maya. Popular, a Memoir: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek. New York, NY: Dutton/Penguin Young Readers Group.
The memoir of a one-year social experiment in which teen author Maya Van Wagenen followed a 1950’s popularity guide, written by former teen model Betty Cornell.

The Scott O’Dell Award, Larson, Kirby. Dash. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.
When her family is forced into an internment camp, Mitsi Kashino is separated from her home, her classmates, and her beloved dog Dash; and as her family begins to come apart around her, Mitsi clings to her one connection to the outer world—the letters from the kindly neighbor who is caring for Dash.

Karen Hildebrand is an Ohio library and reading consultant. These reviews are submitted by members of the International Reading Association’s Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.
- Karen Hildebrand, February 16, 2015  Visit Website
R.R.A.P. Magazine
“Gabi, A Girl in Pieces is a wonderful young adult piece that properly shows how to handle intersectional identities while still keeping the writing level superb. … I think this novel left me better than when I began it.”—Brent Lambert, R.R.A.P. Magazine
Gabi, a Girl in Pieces: Necessary Intersectionality
By Brent Lambert

So I walked into this novel not quite sure what to expect. Not in terms of writing, but what to expect from myself. Because to be quite honest; my knowledge of Mexican and Mexican-American (this book taught me there is indeed a difference) culture was surface level at best. Yes, my list of friends include people of Mexican descent but that doesn’t precisely translate into understanding their culture, their history, and their struggles. So I came into this book ready to learn. And learn I did.
I learned cultural perspectives I had never considered. I was forced to confront angles of racism that I had never really thought about. Cultural nuances were brought to my attention. In the midst of these different perspectives, I also found great points of commonality. Points of shared hurt and disappointment. In short, this book did what all good books should do. It brought me into its world and made me comfortable staying in it.
So based on the title, it’s pretty obvious the focus of the book is the character of Gabi. She’s a Mexican-American high school senior and like so many teens she is dealing with a whole host of things that she probably shouldn’t have to be dealing with. She has two best friends; one is pregnant and the other’s gay. Her Mother is a bit domineering and is always harassing her about something whether it’s Gabi’s weight or why she shouldn’t leave for college. She has a Father who is a drug addict that keeps trying to get back into some kind of normalcy but isn’t able to get there. And to top it all off she has to navigate the treacherous roads of sex and boys. It’s a lot but it’s also incredibly and heartbreakingly normal.
An unfortunate criticism that book reviewers tend to lob at minority writers working in the field of Young Adult literature is that they throw too many problems in. These reviewers can’t handle race, sexuality, and drugs all in one novel. It’s too much for them and they want these writers to narrow their focus. All that criticism proves to me is that we need more diverse reviewers. Minorities in America understand intersectionality and don’t run away from it. At no point did I feel overwhelmed by the number of issues thrown out in this book. I have seen Gabi lacking self-esteem because of her weight. I have known Gabi in his efforts to try and find her place in the world. There are many like Gabi right now and their stories deserved to be told unabashedly. This novel does that.
The author pulls you into these issues and never does it start to feel like she’s preaching or she’s trying to get you to agree with a perspective. She simply puts it out in its most honest, raw form and leaves it out there. Gabi’s thoughts about her weight and the relation to how her Mother makes her feel are laid out without judgment. Sebastian’s journey through his sexuality thankfully stays away from a completely hellish scenario and is often dealt with humor and fun. The Father’s addiction to drugs is brutal in physical details, but also makes sure the emotional response is as eye opening.
Never do I get angry with the people in Gabi’s life and that deserves a hefty round of applause for the author. It’s easy in difficult situations like these, especially ones in which you can personally relate, to get angry with the characters. Anger is an easy emotion and I think for that reason many writers in this field fall back on it. This novel doesn’t do that. Not once was I mad with anyone. I felt disappointment, sadness, joy, hope, but never anger. That’s a testament to the story’s ability to make you feel like the characters in this book are as much your family as they are Gabi’s. Empathy is cultivated through the writing naturally.
Many of the details in this book were revelations for me. As an African-American, I often thought it was just our community who would accuse people of doing things that meant they were “acting white”. I almost laughed when I saw that Mexican-Americans do the same and often for some of the reasons African-Americans do. My Grandmother often pointed out promiscuity as something that “white people” did. It seems small, but it was the first detail that really taught me something in the book. There was an intersection of culture there and along the way I found other things we have in common. A love for cooking. Families that sometimes seem too tight knit. Drug issues. Religion and the excesses that come along with it. A strong rejection, unfortunately, of homosexuality. I saw these things unfold in the book and each one brought me more into the story. We were communicating, the story and I.
But for all the things I could relate, there were elements of the story entirely new for me. It wasn’t until recently I really started to understand the large palette of skin tones that people of Mexican descent can come in. Gabi’s struggle of being too light and seeming to not want it was something that took me a bit to wrap my head around. I was so use to a world perspective in which lighter skin is upheld (erroneously of course) as being better. Confusion gripped me trying to think why this would be a problem until Gabi quickly pointed out why. Her skin color created an illusion of whiteness that allowed good ol’ American ignorance and racism to be brandished in front of her without abandon. Then I got it and felt instantly terrible because racism is bad enough, but to be around in its purest form must be a painful experience. I was shown a new side to racism I had never really considered before. It made me think of my own ancestors and how awful the act of “passing” as white must truly have been. The anger that must have simmered in their hearts was put on full display for me by Gabi. So, in a way, the novel made me reflect and consider a new perspective on even my own history. Bravo!
Gabi, A Girl in Pieces is a wonderful young adult piece that properly shows how to handle intersectional identities while still keeping the writing level superb. It successfully avoids the pitfall of being a school special and also dodges becoming something so depressing that you’re left empty afterward. No, this story at its conclusion made me hopeful and privileged. Hopeful that through these kinds of stories being told we let all the Gabi’s of the world see their worth. Privileged because I think this novel left me better than when I began it.
- Brent Lambert, February 27, 2015  Visit Website
City Lights Publishers
Wish this book had been around during my angst youth, but at least you can pick it up now and revel in the author’s grace and humor in dealing with very heavy subject matter. Isabel Quintero reminds us of the transformative power of journal writing, as well.
Wish this book had been around during my angst youth, but at least you can pick it up now and revel in the author’s grace and humor in dealing with very heavy subject matter. Isabel Quintero reminds us of the transformative power of journal writing, as well.
- Stacey Lewis , June 1, 2015  Visit Website
The Guardian
Isabel Quintero’s young adult novel “Gabi: A Girl in Pieces” centers around a young, light-skinned Mexican-American girl. … Like Gabi, I feel I need to prove my identity all the time.
A Light-Skinned Latina Like Me Will Never Be Able To Live In The Land Of Whiteness

What exactly does being a light-skinned Latina mean for me? It means that all at once, I am just dark enough, too dark or not dark enough at all. It means that I’m the color white people want to be, but white people don’t actually want to be me.

In college, a white classmate once touched my arm and said that she loved my tan. “How did you get like this in the middle of December?” she asked. “You’re the perfect color!” I guess I was supposed to feel honored. In that moment, however, I stopped being me. I wasn’t my abuelita’s mosca or my father’s melangango. I wasn’t a writer or a first-generation college student. I was just a nice tan. I may as well have been a chemically constructed liquid, something she could purchase in a bottle or spray on herself at the beach.

The idea of being a “perfect color” is a product of colorism. Colorism favors people with lighter skin tones and violently dismisses those with darker ones. My sister’s Venezuelan classmate once told her that he didn’t speak to black or indigenous people because they were darker than he was and thus, beneath him. I’ve been told that I’m the “good” kind of Latino – that I don’t look like those “sketchy Dominican girls,” or “those Indian-looking El Salvadorans with the wide noses.” My “perfect color” means I won’t be followed around a store. You know what? If I dress a certain way – put on some boat shoes, a polo, maybe some pearl earrings – I could maybe even cross over into the land of whiteness. I could get a seat in a cafe there. Listen to Tame Impala.

Just kidding - I’m still too dark for the Land of Whiteness. I’ll never be white. Sometimes I’m too dark. My family will tell me to put on some more sunscreen when we’re at the beach. I will be asked if I can spell or speak English. A white customer at the bookstore I work in will demand that I stop touching my hair because it’s “disgusting.”

And then, I can also be not dark enough – there are white people who brag about being able to get darker than me. They’ll hold their arms up to mine and say that they get spoken to in Spanish because they look even more like me than me. To them, my identity is something so fluid they could drink it. Buy it over the counter. Take it like a vitamin.

Isabel Quintero’s young adult novel Gabi: A Girl in Pieces centers around a young, light-skinned Mexican-American girl. Writing about Mexican Independence day, Gabi feels a lot of anxiety about how “Mexican” she appears. She says: “People look at Sandra’s long brown hair, dark brown eyes and skin, and they think, how exotic, how perfectly Mexican.” She goes on to say: “My skin is there for all the world to see and judge at … White girl. Gringa. I’ve been called all those names. Skin that doesn’t make me Mexican enough.” Like Gabi, I feel I need to prove my identity all the time.

I explain my race and break it down into bite-sized pieces for white people, the same way I give directions to tourists to the train. I dissect it, minimize it, make an easy-to-digest travel brochure for my identity. These consistent explanations, this never-ending need to prove myself only reinforces the racism that constructs the idea of “a perfect color.”

In the same way white people ask how I became this “perfect” color, they also ask what I am and where I’m really from. Growing up in a predominantly white town, my brownness was something my peers were always trying to conceptualize for me. I remember welcoming comparisons to caramel, spices, Eva Mendes. It gave me a place, a name. Helped me understand who and how I am and why I look this way.

I don’t have an answer for how I became a certain color or where I’m really from. Colonialism made sure that I would never understand my history. I’m this color because of a history that decided white was the most beautiful; because of destroyed indigenous temples I’ve never heard of; the rape and slaughter of my ancestors that was ripped out of history books; the brujas and the brown hands that loved too hard to die and survived the destruction. I am this color because of love and because of rage and the undefinable colors that exist between them.
- Melissa Lozada-Oliva, August 8, 2015  Visit Website

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