by Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo
Gabi, a Girl in Pieces (Cinco Punto Press), the debut YA novel from Inland Empire poet, Isabel Quintero, reminds me of myself at 17; Gabi is too fat, watches too much “I Love Lucy,” and has too many feelings she can’t seem to make go away. But armed with her journal, a canon of poets including Michele Serros, Sandra Cisneros, and Pablo Neruda, and her special beef jerky she has flown in from Mexico, she is determined to fight the injustices of the world starting with the “boys will be boys” double standard.
We meet Gabi at the opening of her senior year of high school just as she discovers one best friend is pregnant and the other has been kicked out of his house for being gay. We follow her through a year of self-discovery that includes a couple of satisfying smack downs before she is able to find inner-strength and self-acceptance.
Laugh or cry, it’s hard not to be charmed by Gabi’s mix of self-deprecation and humor, and it is no surprise she has earned Quintero quite a few accolades over the past year. Gabi a Girl in Pieces is the 2015 Winner of the William C. Morris Award for YA Debut Novel, and continues to make “best of” reading lists. The latest, “Ten must-read YA novels you’ve probably never heard of” from The Guardian said, “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.”
Congratulations to Isabel Quintero on a debut novel that is smart, honest, and full of teenage passion. If I took one thing away from Gabi, it was that I’m not the only one. Even as a 35 year-old, the life of a poet can feel lonely and without much understanding or appreciation (not unlike the life of a 17 year-old). But when Gabi gets a crush on a boy in her poetry class and proclaims, “I think I love Martin Espada,” (named after the famed poet), I beamed with excitement and thought, I love Martín Espada too! In that moment, it was like Gabi was a book meant for me, another Southern California gordita poet. I have no doubt that many other “gorditas, flaquitas, and inbetween girls” will discover Gabi and feel less alone too.
To the gorditas y flaquitas! To the poets! To Gabi! To Isabel Quintero!