At fourteen, my first love and I were thrown out of a Miami Catholic high school due to a love letter she sent me about our first time making love. . . . They read the letter to my mom who’d been dragged from one of her factory jobs to attend the infamous finger-pointing experience (finding out her little girl was a total homo)–Mami was so shocked she punished me harshly: I could never again see or speak to my beloved. (Mayra Lazara Dole, in an interview with Teen Book Review)Down the the Bone begins as Laura experiences the same humiliation Dole recalls, and the subsequent rejection by her school, her mother, and many of her friends. Laura and the other characters are Cuban Americans in Miami, and one strength of this book is that it's so thoroughly enmeshed in that vibrant community. Everything, from the dialogue to the food to the attitudes towards homosexuality, is Cuban to the core. Me, I thought the characters were over-the-top, but what do I know? Dole herself says (as quoted on Chasing Ray) , "Cubans are over-the-top and I’m always asked to drastically tone down my characters." So, apparently I was experiencing a bit of culture shock.
I don't think it was just the culture shock that kept me from connecting with Laura, though. Her focus on who she wants to kiss and who she's willing to be seen with made it hard for me to take her seriously. Her "I'm not gay, I'm just in love with a girl" would have rung truer for me had she struggled at all with her feelings for the girl in question. Instead she's so cotton-candy sweet in-love that I had to brush my teeth afterwards and instead of feeling sorry about their separation, I was relieved. Let's just say this: private nicknames like "Pookie" and "Scrunchy" should not be legalized for public consumption, no matter the genders of the happy lovebirds.
So, not one of those YA books that I (twenty-plus years past the target audience age) fell in love with. But as an alternative to the plethora of books out there in which blonde, blue-eyed girls obsess over who they're willing to be seen with and which boys they want to kiss? I hope Ms. Dole has more where this one came from.
The Soundtrack: Here's Pitbull taking you on a tour of his hometown while singing Ay Chico. If you refuse to listen to rap or are bothered by mildly suggestive lyrics (the Spanish part is fairly tame, basically he's singing for everybody to get down, don't be afraid to stick your tongue out, and he doesn't want water he wants a drink), by all means turn the video's sound down and listen to Tito Puente or Gloria Estefan instead--the faces of Miami are worth watching to any soundtrack. Pitbull, born Armando Christian Pérez, was born in Miami in 1981 to first generation Cuban immigrants, who raised him right: with poetry. They made him memorize the works of nineteenth century Cuban poet José Martí.