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“Down to the Bone” by Mayra Lazara Dole


In theory, an energetic, upbeat novel about a Cuban-American teenager struggling with her sexuality while being supported by an offbeat set of friends seems like a great idea. Unfortunately, "Down to the Bone," while easy enough to read and mildly entertaining, doesn't leave much of an impact.

As the novel starts, Laura is expelled from her strict Catholic high school after it's discovered that a confiscated love letter was written to her by another girl. Laura refuses to reveal the identity of her girlfriend, Marlena, since both are closeted and come from strict Cuban-American families. In fact, both Laura and Marlena initially don't even label themselves as lesbians; they just know they're in love. Mami, Laura's unyielding mother, throws Laura out of the house without a second thought, leaving Laura to take shelter with her wild best friend Soli and Soli's big-hearted new age mom, Viva. Despite Mami's awful treatment — among other things, she calls Laura immoral and a degenerate — Laura wants desperately to be allowed back home so she can again see her younger brother Pedri. But Mami is firm about her conditions, and if Laura remains a lesbian, she wants nothing more to do with her.

While this description might make "Down to the Bone" seem weighty in its tone, it's actually very light and buoyant, perhaps too much so. Laura relates her story in a frantically paced dialogue that barely pauses to acknowledge the seemingly life-changing events that are occurring around her. Everything is quickly glossed over as Laura seems more intent on weaving Spanish words, Cuban food, and silly nicknames into this whiplash-inducing account of her life. Because of this writing style, all of Laura's interactions with her friends, including the transgendered Tazer, come off as woefully artificial. What a shame.

So, yes, there's a fantastic message in here about accepting yourself for who you are, whether that's gay, straight, bisexual, or transgendered. That's definitely a message worth spreading around. And it's admirable that a book that could have been depressing is quite fluffy in tone. I'm not crazy about "issue" books, which typically include those discussing sexual orientation, that are overly serious and grim, as if gay teens can never be happy. That's simply not true. Here, as I said, the entire book just never grabbed me with any emotion, relationship, or situation that felt authentic, despite the fact that elements of the author's own life were the background for this story. If you give this book a try, please know that its language and several references probably make it a better choice for high school age readers. Hopefully, you'll enjoy it more than I did.

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Posted by on July 9, 2008 in Uncategorized


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