Gaby Rodriguez decided early on that she wouldn’t be another stereotype. Even though her mother and older sisters had babies while they were teenagers, Gaby realized that she wanted more and worked hard in school to ensure that her future would be bright. So it was quite a shock that for Gaby’s senior project she decided she was going to fake her own pregnancy.
Telling very few people the truth, Gaby perpetuated a pregnancy in order to find out what it was like to be a pregnant teen. Would all of her accomplishments be negated because of this one mistake? What would people say about her? Who, if anyone, would offer their support? The implications would go much deeper and spread far wider than Gaby could have ever dreamed.
Gaby’s story is told in a straight-forward, easy-to-read manner that I think will be appealing to teens, but for me it fell flat in places. It was hard for me to connect emotionally to her writing. Her tone is reflective and puts distance between the reader and the events. Other than that, I think she has a strong message on an issue that has become something of an epidemic in this country and a real heart for those in need.
The Pregnancy Project by Gaby Rodriguez
Young Adult – Memoir | 218 pages | Simon & Schuster | January 2012 | 1442446226 | Library copy
“Love is what you call a phantom pain. The poets write of it, our great art represents it, it inspires our musicians, but it does not really exist.” He took a long drag from his cigarette. “Like an ulcer you think you have but the surgeon opens you up and finds nothing there. It is a chemical reaction, Keesy. Hormones. People die for it, but no one has ever proven it exists.” (p. 130-131)
The summer she was seven, Margaux Fragoso met 51-year-old Peter Curran at the local swimming pool. Margaux is immediately drawn to Peter’s bright energy, unaware of the rabbit hole down which she is about to fall. Peter invites Margaux and her mentally ill mother to his home, filled with exotic animals and the love and attention Margaux is lacking from her own alcoholic father. These visits turn into an obsessive routine and as Margaux falls deeper and deeper under Peter’s spell, their relationship takes a heinously disturbing turn.
Tiger, Tiger is the shocking, raw, unsettling memoir of Margaux’s 15 year relationship with Peter. It begins with long hugs and small kisses but soon progresses to brutally honest details of a wildly inappropriate and disgusting sexual relationship. Peter manipulates Margaux by telling her they are “in love” and that this is what people who are in love do. Sorely lacking any healthy relationships with which to compare, Margaux feeds on Peter’s lies, all the while struggling with a sense of shame and disgust that she doesn’t quite understand. Over the years, Margaux and Peter’s relationship grows more toxic and volatile and they become so dependent on one another that any hope of a “normal” life seems impossible. When Margaux enters college and attempts to regain some control over her life, she tries to put some distance between herself and Peter. Caught in constant push-and-pull, it is only when Peter takes his own life that Margaux was finally able to break free from the vicious cycle of abuse she had endured for more than half her life.
It’s hard to say that I liked Tiger, Tiger. Was it captivating? Yes. Hard to put down? Yes. But enjoyable? Well…the subject matter made that difficult, despite the wonderfully lyrical prose. Fragoso is clearly very talented. What I did find is that I spent a lot of time being incredibly frustrated that this was able to go on as long as it did. Margaux and Peter were surrounded by people most of the time. Her father sensed there was something wrong with Peter, but never addressed it and eventually gave up trying to keep them apart. People who were close to them questioned the nature of their relationship. A freakin’ social worker was sent to investigate! And nothing. To me, that was just as disturbing as the abuse itself.
I’ve often been asked why I read such “depressing” books and it’s hard to say. Maybe it’s voyeuristic, but some part of me is deeply fascinated by the intimate details of people’s lives that are so vastly different from my own. Maybe it helps me put my own problems into perspective. Maybe it just helps me to have a better understanding of human nature (good or bad). But whatever the reason, I’m drawn to books like Tiger, Tiger. They get under my skin and may make me uncomfortable, but they make me think.
Tiger, Tiger: A Memoir by Margaux Fragoso
Adult Fiction | 336 pages | March 2011 | Farrar, Straus and Giroux | 0374277621 | Library copy
“On 13 October 1991 my grandparents killed themselves. It was a Sunday. Not really the ideal day for a suicide.” (p. 1)
In this beautifully translated slip of a book, Adorján attempts to recreate the day her grandparents, Vera and Pista, committed suicide; what they did, what they might have thought, what they may have said. In between, she relays the story of their lives through her own recollections and interviews she conducts with family and friends.
Vera and Pista were an aristocratic, elegant, music-loving, engaging but slightly aloof Jewish couple who survived the Holocaust, the Korean War, and relocation to a new country. Theirs was a love that had endured hardship and sorrow, but was so powerful and strong that they could not bear to be parted by death.
As I neared the end of the book, I found myself becoming more and more emotional. It’s crazy, because from the first sentence you know what’s going to happen, but the more you get to know Vera and Pista, the more tragic their decision becomes. You want her to be stronger. You want there to be another option. It’s all come about too quickly and there’s nothing you can to to stop it.
I thought author Elizabeth Berg put it best. In praise for An Exclusive Love she said Adorján’s work is “neither sentimental not judgmental, [but] offers a prism through which one might examine and perhaps come to understand a most complicated act.”
An Exclusive Love: A Memoir by Johanna Adorján
Adult | 192 pages | January 2011 | W. W. Norton & Company | 0393080013 | Library copy
“How does someone develop compassion for someone with a completely different set of values without reading something from their point of view? Books are one of the few ways in which we can truly get into the heads of people we would never meet in our ordinary lives and travel to countries we would otherwise never visit.
I suppose that the harsh existence of most Yemenis leaves little time to contemplate other ways of life. Perhaps it is only when our own lives are comfortable that we can afford to look out at the world beyond our personal borders” (p 177).
Jennifer Steil was initially invited to Yemen to give a 3 week crash course in journalism techniques to the reporters at the Yemen Observer. Little did she know, those three weeks would change the course of her entire life.
In a fascinating portrait of this Middle Eastern country, Steil painstakingly describes the challenges of running the Observer, as well paints a vivid picture of Yemeni culture and life. In a place where the sexes are severely segregated, Steil is surprisingly highly revered (due to the face that she is a foreigner). She is granted access to both the mens’ and womens’ intimate gatherings and pulls back the curtain on a society that is so vastly different from our Western ways. I’m a sucker for travel memoirs and Steil’s story delivered.
Liz Murray’s childhood was full of nightmarish experiences. Both of her parents were crack addicts who did nothing to hide their habit, leaving drug paraphernalia strewn about their filthy apartment. Each month the welfare check was spent in a matter of days, only a small portion of which went to purchasing groceries. Without enough food to eat and absolutely no structure, Liz began to slip through the cracks.
While her sister, Lisa, dealt with their chaotic life by imposing strict rules on herself, Liz ‘s life took a downward spiral. She felt responsible for making sure her parents were alright and subsequently began skipping school to take care of them. As her family falls apart, Liz’s truancy lands her in group home and eventually out on the streets full-time. After her mother dies from AIDS, Liz hits a breaking point and knows something has got to give:
My mind was racing. One minute I had a home, a family, a roof over my head, and loved ones to orient me in the world. And now I was on Sixty-fifth Street and Ma was dead, Daddy was gone, Lisa and I were separated. Everything was different. Life has a way of doing that; one minute everything makes sense, the next, things change. People get sick. Families break apart, your friends could close the door on you. The rapid changes I had experienced were hitting me hard as I sat there, and yet sadness wasn’t what came up in my gut…If life could change for the worst, I thought, then maybe it could change for the better. (p. 251)
Much of what Liz experiences is extremely difficult to read, but there is an overall message of hope in her story.