Gabi, a Girl in Pieces is told through the journal entries of Gabi Hernandez, a light-skinned bilingual Mexican-American 17-year-old girl with a lot going on the home front. One of her two best friends is gay, while the other is unexpectedly pregnant, her mother is overbearing, and her father is a committed meth addict. Yet, Gabi still finds joy in her life.
She’s got a lot of angst and a dark sense of humor, which help her deal with her less than perfect circumstances and makes her one of the most relatable characters I’ve ever read. She’s smart, but not brilliant. Strong, but often shy, she usually thinks of the best reaction to a situation only after it’s already happened. She’s self-conscious about her body, lack of money, and drug addict father but not crippled under the weight of these worries. In her diary, she curses regularly, but in the rebellious teenage “I-just-learned-swearing-feels-good” kind of way. Gabi’s two biggest life goals are to get into Berkeley and get a boyfriend. She works diligently at both.
Because Gabi is paler than her family members, as well as most of the Hispanic community around her, she is often mistaken for white. People are regularly surprised that she can speak Spanish and that both her parents are from Mexico. Because she blends in with white people so well, people often make racist comments in front of her. But Gabi hates her white skin and her body. She is overweight and constantly reminded by her mother (and aunties) that she’ll never find a good husband unless she loses weight. Despite the familial criticism of her body, Gabi loves food, dearly. And it never fails her whereas many of the people in her life do so often.
Besides eating, Gabi’s channels a great deal of emotion into her writing. Her poetry is about her internal and external struggles, but it’s not sugar coated. She writes blatantly about her father’s drug addiction, her grandfather’s death, her grandmother’s dementia, etc. It’s a joy to read about her discovering herself through her creativity. Writing poetry enables her to positively express her multiculturalism. She explains, “I didn’t even know you could use two languages in a poem. I thought they either had to be in English or Spanish.” In her diary, Gabi also writes letters to her father, letters she knows he will never read, because she can’t talk to the shell of a man he has become. They are heartbreaking.
The greatest contradiction in Gabi’s life is her mother. While her mother is supportive and proud of Gabi’s academic success, she isn’t happy about Gabi moving away to college. Whenever Gabi does anything against her wishes, her mother accuses her of wanting to be white (both a judgment and insult) and berates her with guilt trips she never uses on her son, Gabi’s younger brother. While Gabi recognizes the sexism she’s grown up in, she’s still working out how to fight against it. For the most part she chooses the battles with her mom and family very carefully while she rarely puts up with it from anyone else.
One aspect of the novel I found especially enjoyable was the intermittent bilingual excerpts woven throughout. Gabi’s voice is a blend of Spanish and English. While she predominately speaks Spanish with her family, friends, and community, she is still living in America and attending a public school where English is the standard. While I only know a smattering of Spanish phrases, the passages in the book are not difficult to understand and even if you don’t know the translation you can figure out the meaning with context clues.
Recommendation: Recommended; Ages 13 and up. While Quinero tackles the issues gently, the novel still contains domestic violence, drug addiction, rape, and abortion.
Reviewer: Cetoria Tomberlin