Summary: 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.
My mother named me Gabriella, after my grandmother who, coincidentally, didn’t want to meet me when I was born because my mother was unmarried, and therefore living in sin. My mom has told me the story many, many, MANY, times of how, when she confessed to my grandmother that she was pregnant with me, her mother beat her. BEAT HER! She was twenty-five. That story is the basis of my sexual education and has reiterated why it’s important to wait until you’re married to give it up. So now, 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 the 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. I mean, this is America and the 21st century; not Mexico one hundred years ago. But, of course, I can’t tell my mom that because she will think I’m bad. Or worse: trying to be White.
Review: From the excerpt above, anyone can see that Gabi and her mother have very different opinions about sex and what it means to be a “good” girl. Throughout the book, Gabi is struggling to make her way through her own beliefs and figuring out how to live them. She does want to be a good girl, but what that looks like for her is a different picture than that of her family members. Gabi’s family often drives her crazy, but they are hugely important to her. She does her best to be true to herself, but being respectful of her family almost always takes precedence. She may think all kinds of snarky and hilarious things about her mother’s comments, but that doesn’t mean she’ll say them.
Gabi is a girl full of love – love for her family and love for her friends and boyfriend. A theme that runs throughout the book is that people are contradictory and faulty, but we can walk away or choose to accept them and love them anyway. Those are our choices because we can’t count on changing anyone. Gabi has learned this the hard way as she’s watched her family and father deal with his meth addiction. At one point she writes that her city is known for smog and overcrowded highways and not for it’s love of gay people, “But still…I love my city with the same force that I love my dad. There’s no escaping my roots, and I guess it’s better to embrace them than cut them.”
Gabi wrestles with her roots and the restrictions that they seem to place on her especially in the area of her body image and her behavior as a girl. The cover art includes the words Gordita and Fatgirl though those adjectives are crossed out. Body image comes into play right away. Gabi loves food and writes about it often, yet feels the need to lose weight. The people around her are not always helpful either. Her mother says things like, “You’re getting fatter than a pregnant woman.” Over the course of the year, Gabi’s thoughts and feelings about her body do change. Her weight is not so much a “problem to solve” as I have seen in other young adult novels.
The gender issues also abound. Her brother is younger and has freedoms that she will never have simply because he’s male. It’s not restricted to her family though. The phrase “boys will be boys” comes up more than once with discussion around what actions boys are allowed to get away with that are completely unacceptable.
Beyond body image and gender roles, Gabi also explores what she refers to as her Mexicanness. She has very light skin so people sometimes think she’s white and she has to “give them a history lesson.” People don’t even expect her to know Spanish. Speaking of Spanish, there was quite a discussion about the language use in this book back in January around the Morris Nominations. A reviewer noted, “the lack of a backmatter glossary does strike me as a significant design flaw, and it’s really a shame.” The book is made up of journal entries which are written in a casual voice. Gabi is meant to be her honest, true self in these entries. Her honest true self uses both English and Spanish so there are Spanish words and phrases throughout the book. Sometimes, like in the above excerpt, there is a translation. Other times, the context would help a reader unfamiliar with the language, and sometimes, there is not enough in the context to figure it out. I may not have always fully understood what was meant, but I believe that my reading experience was enriched by the realistic language patterns and usage. Also, a glossary would say this book is designed for people who only speak English rather than a girl like Gabi herself. By writing it this way, the book is like Gabi, standing on its own saying “This is who I am.” If a particular word or passage left me confused, online translations were easily available. I can’t help but remember this same type of experience with the book Angel de la Luna and the 5th Glorious Mystery. With that particular book, the author M. Evelina Galang also wrote text that freely flowed between languages. I loved her explanation of why she didn’t include a glossary.
And then there’s the poetry. With everything that is going on in Gabi’s life, poetry becomes her therapy. She finds meaning and understanding through her writing and the poetry that her teacher is sharing. This is a character trying to find her own voice. Poetry and the writing in her diary are a way that she ventures out to use that voice.
Recommendation: Buy it now. Gabi is a character that everyone should get a chance to meet. Gabi faces difficult situations with vulnerability, honesty and an abundance of humor. I didn’t want to say goodbye.
Meg Medina shares about Gabi on NPR