Sometimes you read a book about a character whose life seems like it can’t possibly get any worse until it does just three pages later. Sometimes the main characters of those books are whiny and annoying and you say to yourself “I want to feel bad for you, but please, just stop talking.” But, sometimes, you read one of those books with one of those characters, and all you want to do is reach your hands through the pages and hug them. Gabi is one of those characters.
Gabi, a Mexican-American high school student has it all: a drug addicted father who spends more time looking homeless on the street than in their home, a mother who harps on her all day every day to be a “good girl” which includes not spending time with boys lest she become impure and constantly reminding her of her faults, biggest of which is her weight which only causes Gabi to hid sleeves of Oreos in her underwear drawer. She’s poor, an outcast, and she’s just trying to figure out this life thing as best she can. Not only is her family broken, but she’s perpetually a victim of prejudices in society due to her race, her income level, and her size.
Through it all, Gabi is strong and smart, and she’s so funny that sometimes it hurt my stomach to read her journal entries. What saves Gabi is a creative writing class that allows her to explore issues of feminism and to wade through her many emotions about her family and friends. Her poem about her father was beautiful and heartbreaking and is the kind of literature that should be framed on walls (I won’t be afraid to be the first to do so, either).
This is a book for anyone who has ever felt broken or un-whole. Who has ever felt that their physical presence precedes them. Who has ever felt lost in the world and found that only they could guide themselves through. Who has ever loved someone who only ever lets them down, but allows their hopes to rise anyway. Gabi is the literary anthem we all didn’t know we needed.
(Note: This book does touch on a lot of themes that may not be suitable for all audiences. It is certainly a book for high school aged youth. Some topics include: drug addiction, teenage pregnancy, homosexuality, and death).
I’d like to insert a plug for the audiobook I was listening to at the same time I was reading about Gabi. Fat feminist blogger and comedian, Lindy West, recently published a book entitled “Shrill: Notes from a loud woman” and narrated the audiobook herself. Lindy is the anthem I wish I could have passed through the pages to Gabi to tell her that she was on the right track all along and that her struggle, though more complex due to race and poverty, and a family that doesn’t offer unconditional love and support, is not singular. Lindy speaks about her experiences as a woman growing up to fill her whole body with pride and confidence in a world that only ever told to be smaller and quieter.
Lindy shares essays of her growth, of being a woman calling for justice and humanity on the internet, while fielding a constant barrage of sexual harassment for daring to take up space and challenge the misogynistic status quo. It is at times painful to hear her recount the things that have happened to her, but refreshing to hear someone naming and claiming the abuse women face daily online and in real life. I found myself nodding along as though we were discussing our experiences in person; she got me, and that felt really nice.
So to the women who need an anthem that isn’t just fiction, and to the Gabi’s of the world who need reassurance that they aren’t on the wrong path and that though it might not get better we’re not alone and that progress (however slow and small) is possible, meet Lindy West.
Quintero, I. (2014). Gabi, a girl in pieces. El Paso, TX.: Cinco Puntos Press.
West, L. (2015). Shrill: Notes from a loud woman. [Audiobook]. Ashland, OR.: Blackstone Audio.