RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
When we meet 17-year-old Gabi Hernandez, she's about to start her senior year of high school, and things are not going so well. Gabi's father is addicted to methamphetamines. One of her best friends has been kicked out of his house because he's gay. Her other best friend is pregnant.Gabi Hernandez is the protagonist in Isabel Quintero's debut novel. It's called "Gabi, A Girl In Pieces." Award-winning young adult writer Meg Medina chose this book for our Weekend Read series. She says she was drawn to Quinter's book because of Gabi's strong voice. In the book, that voice comes through in a series of diary entries. Here's Meg Medina reading from "Gabi, A Girl In Pieces."
MEG MEDINA: (Reading) My mother named me Gabrielle, after my grandmother, who coincidently didn't want to meet me when I was born because my mother was not married and was therefore living in sin. Every time I go out with a guy, my mom says (speaking Spanish) - 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 a hundred years ago. But of course I can't tell my mom that because she'll think I'm bad, or worse, trying to be white.
MARTIN: There's a lot in that paragraph.
MEDINA: (Laughter). Exactly. She gets at everything all at once. She just hints at what's going to follow in all of these delicious pages.
MARTIN: Let's dive into Gabi's voice. What is particularly different about Gabi?
MEDINA: I think Gabi's voice is a completely bicultural and bilingual voice. So throughout the novel, you will have Spanish and English the way it's really spoken in our families. It's this crazy sort of Spanglish mix. And she's bold. She will say the, quote-unquote, "unthinkable things" about her body, about sexuality, about the crazy dual sets of rules for Latino boys and girls when we're talking about their sexuality.
MARTIN: Double standards like what?
MEDINA: There's a stereotype and an expectation that the Latino boy is going to roam, that he's going to be sexually active and curious. That in fact is what makes them mui macho, a big man. But when we turn to the young women, suddenly we call that cochinadas - dirty things. And girls - and Gabi herself says it in the novel at some point. I think she said something like, you know, for my mother, a woman's whole value is what's between her legs. And once a man has access to that, she has no more value.
MARTIN: This is also a story about what can be a precarious relationship, the relationship between a mother and a daughter. And this one is laden with expectations about preserving culture and identity and here's this young woman who's trying to carve her own path.
MEDINA: Yeah. In this novel in particular, it boils down to, you know, her mother's vision of what's right for Gabi and her own vision. So, I mean, I think that non-Latino readers will be shocked to think - why doesn't her mother want her to go off to college? Well, what's really funny is that as I was reading this I was thinking I remember when it was time for me to go to college and I had said to my mother that I might go. And I was living in Queens and I was thinking - I was going to go - I think it was to Staten Island. And...
MARTIN: Not far. Not far away.
MEDINA: No, not far. But it was - are you crazy? Why would you do that? Why would you not, you know, live at home with your family until you're married? That's what you're supposed to do. So it's just a really difficult set of realities to try to live with side-by-side. And that's one of the things I really loved about this book as well because I think Latina girls reading this are going to see their families in this.
MARTIN: These are very complicated nuanced themes that Gabi is living through and that the book addresses. It does feel like it stands in such sharp contrast to the young adult fiction that I grew up with, you know, even a generation or two ago where you just didn't talk about certain things.
MEDINA: Yeah. I think that there are many authors - and Isabel sits squarely in this group - who don't shy away from telling young people the truth, who are producing work for young women that really dignifies their intelligence and dignified experience.
MARTIN: Meg Medina, she is the author of "Yaqui Delgado Wants To Kick Your Ass." She was talking about Isabel Quintero's new book, "Gabi, A Girl In Pieces." Meg, thank you so much for talking with us.
MEDINA: Oh, it was my pleasure.
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