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.
Over the last six months rave reviews of Isabel Quintero’s Gabi, A Girl in Pieces were popping up everywhere. As excited as I was to finally read it, I was also a little hesitant. I didn’t want to be disappointed by expectations that were set too high. I had nothing to worry about. Told from Gabi’s point of view, the book is honest, authentic, endearing, and funny. I enjoyed the book so much that I was sad to see it end. I’m fairly certain that my neighbors may think I’m crazy now, as I sat on my porch cackling out loud as I read it. If you’ve read much on our blog, you know that we’re strong advocates for academically rigorous curriculum that prepares our students to be successful in and out of the classroom. But, as I’ve said before, success has to do with more than just academics. We also have to address the emotional and social well-being of our students. Gabi, A Girl in Pieces does this by allowing the reader to experience Gabi’s senior year of high school through her diary. The book addresses so many important themes. It can act as a springboard to discuss any of the following in greater depth: gender roles, sexuality, rape, family and societal expectations, body image, self-esteem, ethnicity, race, identity, the power of writing, or addiction. So often we don’t make space for these important conversations in our classrooms, but these are issues that our students need to feel encouraged to discuss and process.
One of my favorite aspects of the book is the way in which Gabi’s perception of her body changes. As the cover indicates with the crossed out words “A Gordita” and “A Fatgirl”, Gabi struggles with her body image. Through her honesty and vulnerability, Gabi voices the feelings that so many girls struggle with, but rarely feel comfortable admitting out loud. Recently, I’ve come across articles discussing the ways in which shame and body-image are connected, and how harmful this is because so often we respond to shame with silence. We don’t want to talk about things that make us feel ashamed, so these thoughts stay trapped inside, operating in what I’ve seen described as a continuous reel of self-hatred that alienates and isolates. Gabi’s diary provides a safe way to broach such conversations as her sense of humor makes what is often a vulnerable topic more accessible. I also really appreciated that Gabi’s acceptance of her body wasn’t found by changing herself through weight loss, and thus succumbing to norms perpetuated by unhealthy media images. Reading Gabi’s struggles to accept her body reminded me of Tina Fey’s thoughts on body image. I’m fairly certain Gabi could appreciate Fey’s humor.
Societal and family expectations around gender roles are another important theme in the book. Gabi’s own hopes, dreams, and ambitions are often in conflict with others’ expectations of her. She is often confronted with the double standards that continue to operate for men and women. I think we see through Gabi and her brother not only the way these double standards hurt the women in our communities, but also the men. If this is a topic of interest to you, Dr. Nancy Lopez (one of our own professors at UNM) does a great job discussing this in her book Hopeful Girls, Troubled Boys.
On another note, the role of poetry in the book is particularly powerful, and provides an easy way to integrate the novel into writing and language arts classes. Gabi’s poetry class opens her eyes to the ways in which writing can be empowering and healing, both through reading the words of others and writing one’s own. As Gabi writes in one of her poems, “Poetry helps heal wounds./ Makes them tangible” (p. 141). Rethinking Schools’ recently released Rhythm & Resistance: Teaching Poetry for Social Justice, edited by Linda Christensen and Dyan Watson, would be an excellent curriculum resource book to use in conjunction with this novel.
I could go on and on, but for the sake of time I’ll stop here in the hopes that you’re convinced that this is a book you should read as soon as possible. If my words weren’t enough, perhaps Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera’s will sway you: “I cannot think of a book today for young adults as voracious, bold, truthful and timely.”
I hope you’ll read the book and come back to share your thoughts with us.
Our complete educator’s guide is now available.
If you’d like to read what others have thought about the book, check out the links to other reviews below:
If you’re interested in learning more about the author and hearing what she has to say about her work and other issues, check out the following interviews:
- School Library Journal’s “Constructing a Life | A Conversation with Isabel Quintero“
- YALSA’s 2015 Morris Award: An Interview with Finalist Isabel Quintero
- Stephanie Kuehn’s “Morris Award Finalist Interview: Isabel Quintero, Author of Gabi, A Girl in Pieces“
- Listen to Isabel Quintero reveal the story behind Gabi, a Girl in Pieces, courtesy of TeachingBooks.net
- Listen to a Gabi playlist that Quintero created for the music blog largehearted boy.