Julia Alvarez -- ?Yo!

Julia Alvarez exuberantly burst onto the literary landscape with her first novel, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, in 1991, helping to establish Latina writers as a powerful force in American publishing. Now she continues the story of the four Garcia sisters, juggling adolescence and adult life in the U.S. with family and heritage in the Dominican Republic, in her third novel, ?Yo!?Yo! is sort of an inside-out version of Garcia Girls. The first book used the personal narratives of each sister to form a composite picture of the family, while the new novel focuses on one sister, Yolanda, through other people's stories about her. Yolanda, shortened to Yo, sometimes nicknamed Joe, is the third Garcia sister, and ?Yo! is the story of how she navigates her adulthood, negotiates her two cultures, and becomes a writer.There is something that I can only call prismatic about Julia Alvarez's writing. She tells large stories by breaking them down into smaller and smaller ones. Each sharp, brightly colored refraction has its own beauty, and as the reader collects more and more of them they re-form into a brilliant whole. She never generalizes and never becomes abstract in her effort to examine complicated questions -- rather, she pins everything down to the particular. Her characters are drawn with such honest attention to their quirks and convolutions that they are fully alive in both their nobility and their pettiness. (I half expect Yolanda Garcia to drop by for coffee one day.) This fragmented technique has allowed Alvarez to construct complex and sophisticated literature out of deceptively simple story-telling. It is easy to read but very, very difficult to get out of your head.?Yo! is a rich enough novel that it stands on its own without feeling like a sequel, but it is really a companion piece to Garcia Girls. Treat yourself to both.

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