Gabi Hernandez of Isabel Quintero’s Gabi, A Girl In Pieces is an unusual main character to meet in an American young adult novel. She looks nothing like the sickeningly thin protagonists we typically find on the covers of many books in this genre. She’s also of Mexican ancestry, a background some question when they look at her:
They always think I’m White, and it bugs the shit out of me. Not because I hate White people, but because I have to go into a history lesson every time someone questions my Mexicanness.
But overall, she’s a typical teenager who writes poetry, struggles with certain subjects in school, applies to college, hangs out with her friends, and wants a romantic relationship. When we meet her, she’s a high school senior who’s never been kissed. She’s interested in a handful of boys, one of whom is worthy of receiving her beef jerky from Mexico. When this guy comes over, “Everything was ready… the beef jerky, the sodas, my heart, hopes and expectations.”
Those hopes and expectations do not include an unplanned pregnancy. Gabi’s fear of pregnancy is borderline obsessive and stems from the story of how she got her name. As we learn in the opening paragraph of the book:
My mother named me Gabriela after my grandmother who–coincidentally–didn’t want to meet me when I was born because my mother was not married and was therefore living in sin. My mom has told me the story many, many, MANY times of how, when she confessed to my grandmother that she was pregnant with me, her mother beat her. BEAT HER! She was twenty five. That story forms the basis of my sexual education.
It’s no wonder Gabi is afraid of getting pregnant. Her fear reminded me of an article I read recently about Franz Kafka, whose aversion to sex may have been based on an intense fear of the potential consequences of sexual activity, particularly the contraction of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Gabi, however, lives in a time and place with much better treatments for STIs–even for infections like HIV that were unknown in Kafka’s time–and so her silence about STIs is understandable. I saw only one mention of STIs in the novel (three STIs at once: AIDS, herpes, and chlamydia).
For Gabi, the worst outcome of sexual activity is an unplanned pregnancy that could limit her future. She wants to go to college. She wants to move out of her “one-horse town.” Hoping to achieve these goals, she recalls her mother’s advice: “‘Ojos abiertos, piernas cerradas.’ Eyes open, legs closed,” but wonders why her mother’s advice to her 15-year-old brother is merely, “Make sure you take a condom with you.” It’s one of many unfortunate double-standards girls face on a daily basis. This novel is an interesting way of exploring these important issues.
*Thank you to Naz of Read Diverse Books for encouraging me to read this book & organizing the #GabiReadalong. There will be a Twitter Chat about this book on Thursday, December 15th at 8 PM EST (the author will be answering our questions!). Please join in.