Down To The Bone
Mayra Lazara Dole
I just finished Down To The Bone, a wickedly funny and smart LBGT teen novel. It is a welcomed and needed addition to a genre that is sorely under represented in the media, libraries and book blogs. The issue of who we love is front and center here, and the writer doesn't deviate from the issue. That said this book isn't for gay teens only (I really wish we wouldn't overlook books just because they address a marginalized group). It is for everybody who knows and loves someone who is LBGT and I hope that people who judge members of this community will read it, too.
Okay, I don't want to preach here, but Laura's story, while fiction, is a reality for many teens and that reality is ugly and scary. The book opens with drama: Laura is reading a love letter from her girlfriend, Marlena in class. Not the smartest thing to do and she chides herself for it later. Her teacher snatches the note and proceeds to humiliate Laura. Now you would think a mature adult would stop when she realizes the consequences of finishing the letter aloud, but the teacher is cruel. Yes, I say cruel. Laura is expelled from school and then her mother kicks her out of their home, too. If you don't know, you cannot be Cuban and gay. The homophobia and gay bashing is vicious. Reminds me a lot of how intolerant the black community is. Still, I was surprised how intolerant the young people were. One of the things I think Dole does exceptionally well is to describe how a young person comes to term with her sexual orientation and the process of self-identifying. Laura does not call herself gay. She has loved only one girl and she is understandably afraid of associating with openly gay people. She wants a normal life even if it means not being completely honest with herself. She wants her life back. I appreciate that Dole doesn't make Laura a teen who is the exception. In other words, Laura has to figure out who she is and what she wants. She's not this super strong, assertive person who thinks she knows all the answers. Laura admits she's confused. She gets angry. She does all the things that make her believable.
The upside to Laura's story is that despite the trauma of being separated from her family (she is exceptionally close to her little brother, Pedri) she has an incredible support system. Here best friend, Soli and her mom, Viva take Laura and her dog in. She has a job and she meets new people in the gay community including Tazer, a boi. Laura makes a lot of mistakes including hurting someone in attempt to be what her mother wants her to be. In the end she does decide to live her life as who she really is. It is not the life she thought she'd have but it is a good life.
For a first book, Dole gets a lot right: pacing, crazy dialogue, you will be laughing a lot, and the language is authentic from the teens' vernacular to Viva's English. A personal plus for me was all the talk of food. I don't just love food, I love eating (all the foodies know what this means) and according to Laura, so do Cubans. Between the wicked dialogue and all the food, I could not get enough. Don't laugh. This book feeds a hunger that only a good book can. The book is huge and I wondered if that would put readers off. Not to worry, this is page turner, and while the book is thick, it's also shorter than a standard hardcover. I read the book straight through. There were only a couple of scenes I felt were heavy handed but I get the aim and the lessons won't be lost on anybody. I know most of us hate overt preaching, but this is one peer trying to let another peer know that it's okay to be who you are.
I highly recommend, Down To The Bone. May is Latin Book Month. If you haven't chosen a book to commemorate the month, pick up this one. It imparts what every parent wants for their children: love, self-acceptance, self-discovery and personal growth.
Read an interview with Mayra Lazara Dole at Lee Wind's.
Find a short list of recommended Latin books at Crazy Quilts.