From the Dominican Republic–born author, 14 interrelated stories about Dominican girls growing up in the Bronx; the book won the 2007 Mármol Prize.
Following a prologue set in 2000 delivered by a 13-year-old girl about her mother, Mia, the curtain rises. It is 1972, and a teenaged Mia, her rebellious cousin, Eva, and their friend, Rica, are discovering their sexuality, pushing the boundaries set by their traditional parents. The compelling opening leads to successive vignettes charting the girls’s progress as they grow up, find their way in love and balance their Dominican heritage with life in the Bronx. Báez keeps men out of the spotlight, focusing not on male actions, but on female reactions. Abuse, pedophilia, strained mother-daughter relationships, cultural assimilation—these all have a presence in the girls’s lives. The prose, sparse, surprisingly powerful at times, attempts to gather a chorus of voices, but the characters increasingly lack definition. The only character to speak in the first person, Mia is the supposed protagonist. As she moves back and forth between the Dominican Republic and the Bronx, she discovers herself through adversity: dealing with her father’s intense abuse and overprotectiveness, her unloving mother’s illness and various love affairs that escalate in seriousness. Her relationships feel thin. Mia’s cousin, Zuleika, has chapters interwoven with Mia’s, but her role is unclear. Ignored for long stretches and reduced to a secondary figure, she reappears embroiled in her own battles, but lost to the reader. Some pieces in this collection are strong, but, as a whole, the book has no direction or sense of itself.
Powerful subject matter and a promising beginning fall flat.