I had been eyeing Gabi: A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero even before it won the William C. Morris Award for a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens. I love the cover, which did its job in pushing me to want to know how the cover reflects the story. Metaphorically perhaps we should not judge books by their covers but literally I do and you do and so do all readers. If we did not, publishers would not put any effort in and all books would come in brown paper wrappers. This was the only book I paid for while I was at the ALA Midwinter conference, the award announcements gave me that extra little push to pick it up right away.
Gabi is a wonderful and complicated person, in other words a teen human being. She is confused by the mixed messages she gets from her Mexican/American community, and the media, and her mother, and her father, and her friends. She has a strong sense of self that is derailed when her family tells her she has the wrong friends or is making the wrong choices. One of her healing outlets is her journal and her poetry. The story is told in the form of her journal that begins with her senior year in high school and end just after graduation.
I liked Gabi a lot. She remarkable well with a number of issues in her life, from her father's drug addiction to her best friend's pregnancy. However, on top of all that is another friend coming out to his hostilely un-supportive family, a wayward brother, the arrival of a new sibling, a hypocritically, hypercritical aunt, college application and acceptance stress, school work, and a love life. I felt like all this was unrealistically dramatic. Perhaps one or two fewer wrenches might have given Gabi the opportunity to deal with each in a deeper way. I am not one to believe teens have it easy today, but YA literature plays an important role in helping teens in anguish. Giving Gabi less to contend with would have, I think, made it easier for readers to see themselves.
Dave Smith in Scott McCloud's The Sculptor has a number of issues himself. For one, he is a frustrated sculptor who had some early success, but has lost his muse. This sets him up perfectly in this "deal with the Death" story. There were many times I wanted to shake Dave and maybe even slap him and say "What are you doing?!?" He spends a bit too much time in a "Woe is me" mindset, but this just means I probably wouldn't be friends with him, not that I did not enjoy his story. Had I been paying more attention to the plot and less to the amazing, and detailed art, I might have seen the twist coming at the end, but my immersion in the blue and white drawings left me surprised by how it all turns out. For this I am glad. I dislike a fabulous twist ending that I can see coming.
Two really good books I am glad I spent some time with this cold weekend.