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October 17, 2014

Book Notes - Isabel Quintero "Gabi, a Girl in Pieces"

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Freshly told in a diary format, Isabel Quintero's Gabi, a Girl in Pieces is one of the year's finest young adult novels.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"Readers won't soon forget Gabi, a young woman coming into her own in the face of intense pressure from her family, culture and society to fit someone else's idea of what it means to be a 'good' girl. A fresh, authentic and honest exploration of contemporary Latina identity."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In her own words, here is Isabel Quintero's Book Notes music playlist for her novel Gabi, a Girl in Pieces:


Freckle face and Casper (as in Casper the Friendly Ghost) are two nicknames. I was called growing up. They were intended as more of insults than anything else; cast at me by friends and non-friends who were dealing with their own body and identity issues. That's the thing about being a teenager; you go through so many crisis' that you feel as though your world is ending, and that you are its only inhabitant and its only potential savior. But more often than not we go down with the ship and let the impending apocalypse wash over us never realizing that we are not alone. In my book Gabi, A Girl in Pieces I write about a young Latina girl on the brink of adulthood. It is her senior year of high school and she has a lot of things going on: her best friend Cindy is pregnant, her other best friend Sebastian just came out, and her father's drug addiction is slowly (or rapidly) reaching its peak.

I wrote this book because some of it is my story. In a lot of ways Gabi and I share the same issues; we both had (have) body image problems, a bicultural experience, a natural distaste for imposed gender roles, and confusion about sex and its role in our life. As I grew older, I realized I wasn't alone, and that the women who had had similar experiences, also felt alone throughout their teenage years.

In writing Gabi, A Girl in Pieces, I felt that music was important to the narrator because she is a poet, and poetry and music go hand in hand. Along with the artists mentioned in the story there are other great musicians that are not specifically mentioned but whose music helped me create a foundation for the characters in the book.

In no particular order (and yes, some are Spanish language artists):

"Dumb It Down" by Lupe Fiasco

Food & Liquor as a whole is an intense album. I will not pretend to be a rap or hip hop scholar–I like some and I hate some–but I love Lupe Fiasco, especially this song. The idea of dumbing things down for, in this case, young people and people of color, is insane, and sadly prevalent. I like this song because it brings attention to the mainstream music industry's perception of certain groups of people, and what they are able to understand. I watched an interview that a certain television personality did with Lupe Fiasco. It was evident that this person believed that individuals who listened to rap/hip hop were stupid, (I think he actually used the word stupid in his interview) and it was a bit upsetting, more so because this particular television personality has a wide viewership and an almost cult following. Gabi, obviously feels the same way I do, and sees rap and hip-hop as another avenue by which words can be used to create art that can change society, and that's why she likes Lupe Fiasco.

"Me Cai De La Nube" by Cornelio Reyna

Gabi mentions this song in a poem she writes about her grandfather dying. I was raised by two older people, Victor and Lucia Mejia, both now looking down on us. When I say older I mean that Victor was born in 1900 and Lucia in 1915–that's the kind of older I am talking about. Because I grew up in their house they became my abuelitos. When I was a little girl, my Abuelito Victor would sing "Me Cai De La Nube" to me. All I would have to say was, "Cántame la canción, abuelito (Sing me the song, grandpa)" and he would know what I was talking about. I still cry when I hear it.

"Hey Mr. Tambourine Man" by Bob Dylan

This is probably the first Bob Dylan song I ever heard and it had such an impact on me that I have been a fan ever since. I was that weird kid in school, who thought she was born in a different decade; who showed up to school in bell bottoms, a peace sign choker, bright top, and platforms in sixth grade three years before bell bottoms tried to make a come back in 199?. You know, that kid. No? You didn't have a kid like that in your school? Well, that was me. And I truly felt that I connected with Bob Dylan. Like I was there in the 1960's and I had died and been transported to the 1990's where I felt so out of place. So it made sense to me, that Gabi would also be a fan of Bob Dylan and at one point she describes happiness in terms of his music. Then there is that time she faces a major tragedy, and the words, "My senses have been stripped, my hands can't feel to grip" are, sadly, fitting for the occasion. How could Gabi not find solace in the words of such a poet?

"Alma Enamorada" by Chalino Sanchez

While she is an American, Gabi's parents are Mexican. The kind of Mexicans who listen to rancheras and corridos. In my household, the corrido belonged to Chalino Sanchez, and as a child I learned to love his music because of my dad. Sure, Gabi listens to rap, folk, bluegrass, rock, even oldies, but since her inception, she's been bred on traditional Mexican corridos and banda music. "Alma Enarmorada" would have been a song her dad would whistle while he worked or played loudly outside to annoy her mother. And she would have loved him for it, and gained a better appreciation for music as well.

"Big Parade" by The Lumineers

This is a foot stomping good time of a song. It is a song that has a nostalgic feel to it, and like Food & Liquor, The Lumineers is just a great album. "Big Parade" is a song that questions the roles we take and put on ourselves, and the facades that are created because of this. Throughout the entire book, Gabi is trying to figure out who she is and whether she's being true to herself, or trying to be what others (her family, friends, and society) expect her to be. She, by her own admission, couldn't live without "worldly music" as her Tía Bertha calls it, especially not without The Lumineers, and this would be her favorite song off that album.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky would often be in the background, propelling my proofing and editing. I like classical music, though I cannot distinguish one composer from another (hey, I keep it real) but I love Tchaikovsky. Him I know. I think. Probably not if my life depended on it, though.

"Latinoamerica" by Calle 13

Gabi struggles to carve an "acceptable" identity (for her mom especially) because she lives in two cultures. However, there is no doubt in her mind that she is proud of her Mexicaness. She feels at once empowered and critical of her heritage, but she wouldn't change it for anything in the world–that's what makes her who she is. The song "Latinoamerica" by, the Puerto Rican group Calle 13, would definitely be part of Gabi's eclectic musical collection. In the original version of the book she writes a poem that goes with the first few lines of the song, "Soy, soy lo que dejaron, soy toda la sobra de lo que se robaron." This idea that she is what's left of conquest, colonization, Americanization, and America, and how there is no fighting that because it's who she is, is an ultimate (and critical) realization for her. In the end, the poem didn't do what I wanted it to do and I opted for taking it out, but this song really speaks to all of those feelings that Gabi has.

"P*to" by Molotov

Now Gabi is no delicate flower. She's blunt, forward, and sometimes crass. She also has a temper as made evident when she slaps her best friend Cindy's jerk of an ex-boyfriend, German, silly and gets herself suspended. I imagine that when she gets angry, like any rational person, she has a go to playlist of musicians, if not songs that make her feel better. The high energy, and profane, "P*to," by Mexican rock group Molotov, would definitely be on that list because it would have made her mother really angry and her Tía Bertha lose her mind. Though, most likely, she would listen to it on headphones or really loud if she was by herself. The song itself is not an angry song, but one that because of the very nature of the foul language used, would help make a person feel better.

"When I'm Sixty-Four" by The Beatles

Though our protagonist has an affinity for foul language, she also has a romantic side to her. She likes love poems (though she thinks their a little too mushy sometimes) and she loves her boyfriend Martin. So it makes sense that she would like stupid love songs (eh, Paul Mcartney?), like "When I'm Sixty-Four." Obviously it is not a stupid love song. It is a sweet song, that Gabi would surely gravitate to, even though she would pretend to think it was stupid in front of her friends for fear of being teased–she's complicated like that.

"Bad Girls" by M.I.A.

With lyrics like, "Live fast, die young/Bad girls do it well" and "Damned if I do/Who is gonna stop me/When I'm coming through," this would be a song that Gabi would play over and over. Though she's not the bad ass M.I.A. is singing about in the song, (obviously she wouldn't like to die young because that would mean she wouldn't go to college) she's in a place where she is trying to figure out what a "good girl" is and a "bad girl" is, and more importantly, which she wants to be. Can she be both? Does it matter? Who gets to decide? This song touches on these questions, while taking on car culture and bling, traditionally male-centric themes in rap and hip-hop, and makes being a bad girl sound mighty fun. Plus, you can't help to get down with your bad self when you hear it.


Isabel Quintero and Gabi, a Girl in Pieces links:

the author's website

Booklist review
Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review

School Library Journal interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


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