Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Under the Mesquite (review)

4/5 Stars

So I'm going to tell you a secret. Back in middle school/early high school I used to write bad poetry. Then one day I had an epiphany that I was writing mopey teen poetry and stopped. Then I went through a phase where I decided that I didn't like or understand poetry. Until senior year of college when I took a literature course. We studied poetry and I discovered that I do in fact like some poetry (mopey teenagers need not apply.)

So I'm still on shaky ground with poetry. I love "Do not go gentle into that good night" BUT I'm iffy when it comes to most new poems. Books written in verse make me EVEN MORE NERVOUS. I blame the indecent amounts of Wordsworth I had to read for a class during college. (During which my brain spazzed and was like novel length poem, I GET IT YOU LIKE NATURE).

For a book written in verse to work there has to be a damn good reason for the stylistic choice. For Under the Mesquite it worked. The book is driven by emotion. The writing is not overdone, at times even sparse and always poignant. It's the story of a girl growing up as her mother slowly succumbs to cancer. It's heartbreaking, but not in a cheap way. Rather than focus on the details of the disease, the reader experiences what Lupita feels throughout her mother's sickness. Somehow the verse gives the emotion room to breathe.

The emotions about growing up, sickness, family and loss ring so true. Because the verse is so genuine and natural, I cannot imagine this story told any other way.
Here is one of my favorite passages:
For my sisters, senorita means
having someone to worship: it is
the wonder of seeing their older sister looking
like Cinderella on her way to the ball.
But for me, senorita means
melancolia: settling into sadness.
It is the end of wild laughter.
The end of chewing bubble gum
and giggling over nothing...

Stories involving cancer have been done, re-done and will continue to be done. I read those Lurlene McDaniel books back in middle school (aka all the teens die but HEY at least they fall in love first books). But this book felt different and refreshing. There is nothing trite about the the way this story is told.

It's not a long book but there's a lot of life and growing up between it's pages. It flits between spanish and english, Texas and Mexico, childhood and adulthood seamlessly. It's a beautiful little book that I'm glad I stumbled across.

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