This novel came to my attention during a thread discussing Junot Diaz, the allegations against him, and diversity and representation. As a famous Latino author, some still see him as important despite the accusations, and denesteak mentioned a blog post written by Alisa Valdes where the Latina author discusses her interactions with him. As a result, I decided to read her novel, The Dirty Girls Social Club. I enjoyed the novel a lot, and definitely plan on reading more by her! I read The Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao and while I liked it, I never felt that interested in This Is How You Lose Her. This, though, makes me want to read more.
With that, the novel in combination with the blog post do make me question my approach to literature. The novel follows six girl friends about six years after graduation, or ten years since they first met and became a group, and chapters shift between their viewpoints. This is a common structure, especially in novels deemed as chick lit, and when combined with the colorful cover, I can see why Valdes is frustrated that her novel was classified as chick lit while Diaz is considered LITERATURE. When men write, it is illuminating and provides insight into the human condition, but when women write, it’s fun and breezy? Why can’t fun and illuminating co-exist? Why are we calling a novel that deals with issues of identity among Latinas, domestic violence, and religion and sexual orientation a light read? Seriously, how many books out there, including Big Litte Lies, are deemed women’s entertainment and written off while tackling heavy issues? Also, why do we need novels by men that humanize assholes who cheat and potentially abuse women rather than focusing on the novels that show how their actions affect the women?
I would love Reese Witherspoon to option this one or include it in her book club, though it looks the rights for this one were bought at one point and then it never quite got past the production stage due to disagreements between Valdes and the network. I’d have to do a bit more research to see how valid that quick impression is so don’t quote me.
The group of six friends includes very different women who probably wouldn’t have become friends if they had not all been at Boston University together. For example, Lauren (if anyone is the main narrator, it would be her since she opens and closes the novel) does not like Rebecca at all, though it probably says more about Lauren’s inferiority complex. Lauren is half-Cubana/half-white trash from New Orleans, but has had to fill the token Latina role at her newspaper. Her personal life is a mess but professionally, she is a good writer though she often finds herself pushed into clichés at the newspaper. Rebecca is from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and traces her family lineage back to the Spanish settlers. Lauren and Amber tease her about her insistence on her pure European roots and her denial of any potential Indian influences. Given her background, she is the conservative of the group, owner of a Latina women’s magazine, and in a boring marriage to a trust fund baby who thought she was his rebellion only to realize that not all Latinas are the same. Elizabeth is a black Colombian Latina, former model, and news anchor on a morning show. Her best friend, Sara, is a Jewish-Cuban Latina with an eye for design, though she is a stay at home mom, married to her successful high school sweetheart with twin boys. Usnavys is the loud Puerto Rican woman of the group; she is the social one, the original creator of the group, and vice president for public relations for a large non-profit. Due to family abandonment and childhood poverty, she has some issues when it comes to men and materialism. Finally, Amber is the one who feels the least connected to the group – while the remaining women are all still in the Boston area, Amber returned to her native California. Though she started college barely speaking Spanish, since graduation, she has become very involved in the Mexicana rock movement, and has been trying for a record deal for the last six years.
While all these women are relatively privileged, their backgrounds allow Valdes to explore different types of identity within Latin culture, how very broad that term is, and also looks at the relationships these women have with men, all of which have their own set of problems. Overall, even as it explored deeper issues, it was an easy and enjoyable read though certain aspects felt slightly dated (at least I hope they are). While it could easily fall into the chick lit category, that isn’t a bad thing. When taken in combination with Valdes’s blog post, it raises the question of why it is only women’s stories that get a reductive label while when men’s novels explore relationships they are simply novels.