“My mom says, ‘Ojos abiertos, piernas cerradas.’ Eyes open, legs closed.”
This advice, the total sum of Gabi’s sex education at home, gets more ironic (and darkly funny) as the book goes on. This is because, while all the adults are advising the kids to be good, they can’t manage to keep their own legs closed, as Gabi wryly notes.
A realistic look at teen sexuality is at the heart of this novel. This is clear before we open the book as the cover art—of a girl in pieces—has a vaginal opening as the centerpiece of the girl’s dress bodice. However, realistic in this case does not just mean gritty or explicitly sexual as it often does. It means that Gabi has lots of questions about sex that aren’t answered in textbooks. It means that she is sometimes naïve and giddy, sweetly dreaming of the boys she crushes on. It means that she discovers that sex is messy in more ways than one—and not at all like anything she has learned from the movies or Spanish-language television novelas.
Quintero writes her novel in a diary format. Gabi begins her diary—a record of her senior year in high school—with thoughts about being too boy crazy and a note to herself to lose weight. But she immediately has to deal with larger problems—her best friend Cindy is pregnant and her other best friend, Sebastian, who is gay, makes the mistake of telling his parents. They immediately toss him out of the house. Worse, Gabi’s father is a meth addict and her younger brother is acting out.
Despite Gabi’s fear that she is too fat to be attractive, several guys take an interest in her—some nice, some not so nice. She examines her feelings and soothes her troubles through writing. She takes a poetry class and, through her assignments, she explores her grief at the deaths of her grandmother and grandfather. To express her feelings of love for, and frustration with, her drug-abusing dad, Gabi writes him letters that she keeps hidden. She completes college applications and hopes to attend Berkeley in the fall.
Gabi has an unfair share of family and financial problems, but she dreams, as all teens dream, of fulfilling her potential and having love in her life—the kind that isn’t predicated on guilt and obedience to irrational conditions.
High school housekeeping: There’s so much you’ll like about this novel. Gabi is very realistic—she frets about her weight, but isn’t motivated to lose it—instead it serves as a shaming mechanism. More than she needs to lose pounds, she needs to lose the guilt, not only about eating treats, but about her budding sexuality, her desire to leave her family and attend college, her inability to help her father or be a ‘good girl’ Mexican daughter to her mother.
Gabi’s sense of having to walk on eggshells to avoid upsetting her tweaking father is one that anyone who has had an alcoholic or drug addict in their family can easily relate to. The diary format of this novel is one that teens connect with, although the pieces here seem less like journal entries than well-organized and lovely writing. The smattering of Spanish gives the book a genuine Southern-California sensibility, yet it is easy to understand, even for the reader whose Spanish is minimal.
Realistic in both its search for answers and in the answers themselves, you’ll connect with Gabi’s situation and with her problem-solving grit immediately.