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CROSS-STITCH by Jazmina Barrera


by Jazmina Barrera ; translated by Christina MacSweeney

Pub Date: Nov. 7th, 2023
ISBN: 9781949641530
Publisher: Two Lines Press

Writer and mother Mila, one of a trio of middle-school classmates who became close friends, reflects on their once-interwoven lives after a member of the trio dies unexpectedly.

As the book opens, Mila hears her cell phone buzz. It’s Citlali’s aunt, writing to tell Mila that Citlali has drowned in the sea in Senegal and her ashes will be brought back to Mexico. Dalia, too, has been informed. Mila, Dalia, and Citlali first met as preteens in Mexico City and stayed friends even as their personal and professional paths diverged: Dalia moved to Spain; Citlali settled in Brazil but moved around while working for an environmental NGO; Mila remained in Mexico. Stricken with shock and grief at the news, Mila agrees to help organize a sort of memorial service—she calls it a “leave-taking ceremony”—for Citlali. More information about the trio is revealed as Mila contemplates their individual and communal bonds, tracing the history of their friendship from its inception in junior high to the present. Two defining events soon emerge: an adult literacy campaign for which Mila, Dalia, and Citlali volunteered around the beginning of high school, and a trip to Europe to visit Citlali about six months after Mila and Dalia started college. Hindered by a low score on the entrance exam for her chosen academic track, Citlali had instead elected to take a job picking grapes in France, one in a series of offbeat decisions. Her private struggles are seen through Mila's eyes, referenced but never belabored; this limited context for her death feels true to life rather than unsatisfying. Translated from the Spanish by MacSweeney, the novel evokes the awkward process of growing up, chronicling adolescence and the transition into adulthood vividly and frankly. While their personalities and interests vary—differences that cause more than a few tiffs—the women share the love for embroidery implied by the title. Passages about embroidery and other forms of stitching divide sections of the novel, though any symbolic link to the events of the plot is not obvious.

A somber book about the formative, irreplicable experiences shared between friends and the agony and bewilderment of loss.