Saturday, August 09, 2008

Down to the Bone by Mayra Lazara Dole

I finished reading this book several days ago. As is rapidly becoming the norm, life has been too hectic for me to sit down and type up my little review. So, I am just now getting to it.

I neither loved nor hated this book, but rather, I thought that it was a decent effort at a type of tale that isn’t published often enough.

It’s the story of a teenage girl who is kicked out of her catholic school and out of her home because it is discovered that she is in love with another woman. After her own mother tells her to leave, Laura is taken in by her best friend and her mother. She decides to not continue school in the fall, and instead drops out completely and works fulltime for a landscaping company. Over the next couple of years, Laura learns to accept who she is, and that family is not always blood related.

What makes this story so unique? Not only is it a young adult novel with a lesbian as the main character (and whose friends cover many other fractions of the GLBT community), but it is also the story of a young Latina woman. So….that means it is the story of a teenage Latina Lesbian – something that isn’t found often on most of the big publishers’ new release lists.

What I didn’t like about the story:

I barely speak Spanish, having forgotten most of what I learned in high school and college. Thankfully there was a glossary in the back. However, the amount of Spanish in this book was a bit overwhelming. I felt like I was flipping back and forth over and over again. Additionally, the main character’s way of talking included a lot of nicknames for her friends. It’s confusing and annoying.

Now…I have a million and one names for my sweet little pup at home; however, most people can tell you that his name is Spike – even though I often call him Rooni, Spikerpup, Stinkeroo, Roo, Puffybutt, Little Boy, Baby boy, Crazy pup, etc. etc. etc.

I couldn’t tell you the name of Laura’s dog. And she talks to/about him often.

Additionally, the story just seemed too…too something. I can’t place my finger on it. Which is one of the reasons this was a difficult review to write! Perhaps because the primary characters were all over the top in some way, and it distracted me too much – especially in addition to my previous comments – from the story of a young girl coming of age and realizing who her true self really is.

So…my final statements:

Libraries who have a decent sized Hispanic population should buy this book.
Libraries who are lacking in GLBT young adult fiction should buy this book.

But, the audience is not “mainstream”. As someone who isn’t in the GLBT or the Latina categories, I had a hard time connecting with any of the characters.

One last but…

I would read another teen novel by this author. I hope she will continue to write similar themed novels, but perhaps some that will appeal to all types of readers.

ETA: I found out after writing this post that Down to the Bone is on the 2009 Best Books for Young Adults nominations list.


Anonymous said...

Hey, Amanda!

Just read your review and I didn't hate it, but... I didn't love it, either. I can't pinpoint why and I've given it three stars.

All kidding aside...

It amazes me to know that some Anglo readers prefer sticking to "mainstream" and not relishing the passions and language of other cultures. Down to the Bone is all about diversity. Never has an Afro Cuban girl or Cuban-American tranniboy appeared in a YA novel. The fans of my book who aren't Latino, adore different cultures, become inspired to learn Spanish and street Cuban/dialect, and love reading multicultural books that aren't mainstream. Thanks for saying you'd read my next book. I'll definitely read your next review!

360--For the record... your nickname in Cuban might be, Ami, Amita, Amandita, or Mandita! Amanda is such a lovely name, though, you don't need a nickname! : )

I appreciate your honest opinion about Down to the Bone. Thank you so much for writing a review. I learned about what some Anglo readers want: "mainstream." I hope you love my next novel. Will try to please everyone, but must stay true to my heart and soul.

Much warmth!

Mayra Lazara Dole

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review Amanda! I sometimes have a hard time with any book with a lot of other language in it (whether its a real language or a fake one, like a sci fi book I read lately). It can definitely make it hard to connect with a book when you cannot understand what the characters are saying.

Thats great it was nominated for an award! You'll have to let us know if it wins!

Adam said...

I'd enjoy meeting you, Amanda. you sound like a kind person with varied interests, however, I felt the book could've been even more Latin in flavor and still be considered what it is: an English language novel. I wonder if you avoid foreign flicks because of the subtitles; nothing wrong with that either-Nevertheless, I found it easy to read, and it was nice to have a glossary. I think it's a long overdue book- My cousin Margaret could've of used it when she was coming out! Part of coming out is feeling you are the only one in the world with this Gayness-affliction.
'nuff said!


Ama said...

For the record, since I feel you are insinuating that I am closed minded:

I love foreign films.
I’ve studied 3 languages (German, Spanish and French) throughout high school and college. Those were the only languages offered at both my high school, and the small liberal arts colleges I attended for my undergrad degree.
I have planned several programs around multicultural themes.
I purchase many children’s books and materials that are of multicultural themes.
I am very liberal. I believe in equal rights to people regardless of race, gender, religion, sexuality, etc.
I enjoy reading and learning about other people and other cultures.

This list can go on and on.

I did not hate Down to the Bone. Rather, I feel that for such a short, young adult novel, it had too much. It would have been a more powerful book to me – a “mainstream” reader – had there been more focus just on the main character and her becoming comfortable with her sexuality, and realizing that family isn’t always blood related. I think that the author could perhaps make a series of novels, focusing on the various characters in Down to the Bone…but without shoving so much into one short book.

As for the name thing…I do have many names. Ama (which I’ve used for many years and am called by several friends), Amanda (my given name), Mandy, Manda, Amander, Amy…all names that I have been called and answered to. Those are just for my first name!! But, if I was going to write a short novel with a character named Amanda, I wouldn’t use every single nickname.

As for the language thing…I’ve read many other books with other languages in them. I’ve enjoyed them. I liked learning new words. But…usually it doesn’t require me to flip back and forth to the glossary every other paragraph (which, I am very glad there was a glossary available).

Also, for the record, I have recommended to at least one of our branch managers that she purchase this book for her collection. Why only one? Because I can assure you that at the other branches it would just sit on the shelf and only be weeded from the collection in a couple of years. When libraries are hard pressed for space and for money to purchase materials, the relevance to the service area’s population must be taken into account.

So, please quit insinuating that I am closed minded…or worse.