Man, have I read some amazing (mostly YA) literature lately! I’ve been fortunate to burn through lots of gift cards loading up on summer reads based on great recommendations (Thanks, Jen Moyers, my book guru!), and I can hardly keep up with all of the inspiring texts I’ve been enjoying. (In fact, this book review is a month overdue, but I’m finally going through what I initially wrote to post it. More reviews should be on their way shortly!)
Today I want to focus on Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero. (Credit goes to Goodreads.com for the cover image.)
From the provocative cover to the unique use of images and poetry within the novel, this book certainly gets the reader’s attention from the start. I read it on an e-reader (due to space constraints while traveling—see this post for more about that journey), and I feel like I missed out a little bit on some of the interesting aspects of the text, but I’ve looked at a paper copy as well to experience some of the richer, more colorful aspects of presentation. It's also a short novel, and I've written before about how valuable that can be, especially with a teen audience in a classroom setting.
This brilliant novel hits on all sorts of issues through the eyes of a hilarious, curious, critical girl, Gabi Hernandez, as she journeys through her senior year in high school. She spends much of her time figuring out what it means to be a woman, and she documents all of her thoughts and adventures in a diary that we, the readers, are privy to seeing. Gabi struggles through many typical teen issues with humor and self-reflection: she’s an awesome friend who helps out with a friend’s coming out and another friend’s pregnancy, and she struggles to find her way in relationships with boys. Gabi works through finding her voice as a writer, and she goes through the challenging process of applying for college. She also continually works to maintain meaningful relationships with a mother who, while well-meaning, can be oppressive, a brother who can be irresponsible and careless, and a father who is a drug addict.
The best part of the novel is Gabi’s voice. She’s distinctive, funny, and self-assured (even when she’s insecure). She doesn’t hesitate to say exactly how she feels, even when it’s difficult or makes people uncomfortable. Here are a couple of examples: “Curse the day I fell in love or like or whatever with Joshua Moore! I hate him. Hate him! HATE HIM!” (Quintero 20). Here she comments on her discovery of her love of writing: “I’m finding out that I really like poetry. It’s therapeutic. It’s like I can write something painful on paper and part of it (not all of it, obviously) disappears. It goes always somewhere, and the sadness I feel dissolves a little bit” (Quintero 48). This manifests into some brilliant poetry later on in the novel as she discovers more about the world of writing. The poems about her grandmother and her father are stunning—ones that could easily stand alone, ones that I found myself rereading after I had finished the novel. Here's a brief excerpt from the poem about her father, "In light of the fear of my father's death I write this down":
Guilt of gluttonous
He evades questioning questions
and dodges disagreements
a refugee in refuge
a reduction of
my father the brave. (Quintero 65)
In the classroom: There are so many teachable aspects of this novel. However, the most intriguing aspect of it to me is the way that you could pair the novel with the texts and authors that Gabi discovers in the novel. As she discovers her own voice as a poet, she also encounters many other poets and writers, and you could use the pieces that she discovers as a way to pair the YA novel with more classical, traditional literature in the classroom setting. She encounters writers such as the Beats (specifically Ginsberg’s Howl), Sylvia Plath, Pablo Neruda, e.e. cummings, and Sandra Cisneros. She also talks about Brave New World (though only in passing), and there are references to Edgar Allen Poe and other authors. The text is full of literary connections that could enrich its reading.
I also love the incorporation of Spanish and the way that Gabi shows her readers what it can be like to grow up as a second generation immigrant in America. The Spanish in the text is unobtrusive to non-Spanish readers, and Gabi always makes her point clear in English, but it highlights the richness and complexity of her experience as she navigates through her world of colliding cultures and generations. The way that she talks about Mexican food also shows the richness of her culture. When one of her early relationships falls apart, she talks with her mother:
I tried to act like I didn’t care about the whole Josh situation, but it was hard. I came home today and told my mom what was going on (because she’s my mom and can ALWAYS tell when there’s something wrong and won’t let it go until I tell her) and she offers some words of comfort so my heart wouldn’t shatter. She knows heartbreak, she said. She said. “Yo se lo que es estar joven y enamorada.” I tried to think of my mom as young and in love, but I couldn’t, it was too far of a stretch. (Quintero 22)
Gabi's relationship with her mom is complicated (aren't they always?) but tender and rich. The way that Gabi embraces her heritage and balances her different cultural influences shows one more aspect of her growing into herself. She reflects on her Mexican-American heritage and how hard it can be to be in that situation of split allegiances. It’s one more way that the text is complex, while being totally approachable.
This novel covers so many issues: it is not a book about being overweight, but Gabi talks openly and honestly about her struggles with food and self-image. It’s not a book about sexual identity, but Gabi manages to highlight to us the struggles that so many teens face as they try to learn about themselves. It’s not a book about being homosexual, but her friend’s struggles with his family show how difficult it is for some teens to come out to their loved ones. It’s not a book about teen pregnancy, but her friend Cindy’s struggles show what that path can look like for a young mother. It's not a book about addiction, but Gabi shows the way that addiction impacts the lives of loved ones. Through Gabi's eyes and voice, Quintero covers so many issues with humor, compassion, and authenticity.
In short (I realize this should be an ironic statement since this review keeps getting longer and longer...), I LOVED it, and it would be an invaluable addition to some of the more traditional canonical texts.
Things have been busy lately. You know how that goes, I'm sure. One of the things I do when I get stressed is start LOTS of things without finishing ANY of them.
For example, I open fifteen tabs on my computer and leave all of them open, desperately rifling through the files to try to figure out which one to do first. As my mind races, I find that I continually think of new items that must be completed; with each new thought, a new tab opens. On particularly anxious days, I switch back and forth between the computer and my desk, making notes and sorting through papers (there are ALWAYS lots of random papers on my desk on days like that) as I struggle to make sense of my life.
So it goes with my blog from time to time. I now have at least five drafts going on this page at once; most have been open for at least a couple of months--some of them have been open since before I went back to work post-maternity leave in September (was it really so long ago?). I've been desperately trying to post more frequently, but the whole month of December already slipped through my fingers, and now I'm at the end of January.
Anyway, I'm super excited about two things that we're doing at school right now, and both of them are ideas that you could implement right away if you felt so inclined.
The first idea is using YA literature for text pairings:
With our English 11 classes (and, to a lesser extent, with my AP Lit class as well in the form of lit circles), we're pairing "traditional" (think canonical, in anthologies, mostly by dead authors, largely DIFFICULT and somewhat antiquated) texts with passages from young adult novels. It's been great so far.
For example, we paired a close reading passage using the beginning of "The Fall of the House of Usher" with the beginning of a spooky novel by Rin Chupeco called The Girl from the Well. We paired a passage from The Life of Olaudah Equiano about being kidnapped and the slave ship journey over with a passage from Sharon Draper's Copper Sun about the slave auction.
It's been really successful, and it's been a great way to introduce students to more YA literature while also exposing them to the classics and more traditional texts.
The second idea is focusing on social issues as a way to create units:
We decided to make our units revolve around social issues. We came up with a list of social issues--15 of them--that we thought might interest students, and then we used Survey Monkey to let students quickly vote on their top issues. It surprised me to find that bullying was the winner by a landslide--well over 50% of the students voted for that issue. The other winners were hate crimes, human trafficking, and violence in schools. It was great to use the survey because I would've been reluctant to choose some of those issues on my own, but with student input, it invited me to have space to talk through issues that are relevant to the students' lives. We're creating mini-units focusing on each of the issues they selected. So far, we've worked through human trafficking and are currently studying hate crimes (including racial and religious crimes as well as crimes related to sexuality). I've been amazed by the maturity and passion students have shown as we have dealt with difficult texts and topics.
I'll write more about the framing of those units in the future, but I wanted to throw these ideas out there in case you're looking for some new things to try. I've needed a bit of revitalization with lessons myself, and these two ideas have done a lot to enhance the lessons I'm making.
K. Ashley Dickson-Ellison is a former high school English teacher (who is now an instructional technology teacher) interested in exploring the integration of trending young adult literature into the English classroom experience. Ashley is also a member of the podcast Unabridged; check out the podcast site below.
Please note: All ideas and opinions are my own and do not represent my current or past employers.
© K. Ashley Dickson and Teaching the Apocalypse 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to K. Ashley Dickson and Teaching the Apocalypse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All thoughts and ideas are the author's and do not represent any employer.