Friday, March 16, 2007

A Girl Can Dream

Book Review
By Alena Dillon

What Night Brings
By Carla Trujillo
242 pages
Connecticut: Curbstone Press. $15.95

Marci, a ten year old Mexican girl growing up in San Lorenzo, California, struggles to understand why her mother refuses to leave her horribly abusive father and why God, the Virgin Mary, and Baby Jesus all fail to satisfy her unshakeable desire to be a boy. While guarding her secret hope of one day making a miraculous gender transformation, she tries to determine how abnormal her wish really is and if it is safe to voice it. Will her family, friends, and church accept the truth and perhaps offer her some assistance in the endeavor, or, like how her father refers to her Uncle Tommy, does her secret make her some kind of queer? In addition to questions about her identity, she constantly drills the nuns at her Catholic school and other grown ups about the definitions of certain "adult" words, why things are the way they are, and the distinction between right and wrong. Like the characters in her favorite Hardy Boys detective novels, Marci takes a close look at every one of life's curious details and attempts to solve its mystery. Ultimately, Marci proves the stunning amount of strength a ten year old girl is capable of having, especially when all odds are against her.

In What Night Brings, Carla Trujillo strategically delivers an enthralling tale through the not only believable, but uncanny voice of Marci. Trujillo quite remarkably captures the thoughts of an adolescent Mexican girl exploring various aspects of life, in particular, her sexuality. Her tone is innocent, curious, well intentioned and oftentimes, hilarious. While Marci is by nature a wise cracker, often her youthful naivety calls to the surface an inadvertent humor, not to mention the laughs produced by her lesbian leanings at such an early age. Her resistance to all things typically considered feminine in exchange for spying and martial arts is exceptionally funny. Trujillo texturizes the novel by weaving in and out of fantasy and reality, daydream and actual occurrence. The reader is given not only a play by play of her everyday experiences, but also a thorough examination of her contemplations and her dreams.

By dotting the dialogue with the Spanish language and illustrating how heritage affects the lifestyle and mentality of its characters, Carla Trujillo writes a novel rich with Mexican culture. The dialogue is artfully crafted so that it is easy to understand while still maintaining Spanish undercurrents. As is natural for individuals whose first language is Spanish, exclamations, curses, and words fueled by raw emotion are frequently spoken in their native language. This window into their culture is a priceless element in understanding the root of the characters. It offers explanations to why characters hold particular prejudices or grudges, and accentuates their fiery temper. The vivid incorporation of culture is a thrill to experience and adds a critical dimension that would be lost without its inclusion.

The involvement with the Catholic Church creates an additional layer of complication that Marci must confront. The teachings of the bible seem to contradict the reality she witnesses. While the bible says to love and be kind, she is forced to experience violent, inexplicable rampages from her father. Marci struggles to honor her parents as tradition requires but finds it difficult to respect a man who so often causes her, her sister and her mother, such exhaustive physical and emotional pain. She voices many of her concerns about the inconsistencies to nuns who typically just disregard them or sometimes punish her for her inquiries. And of course, there is the matter of her prayers for a sex change. Every night she begs to be appeased and every morning she finds that she has been ignored. But, she remains determined and continues her nightly prayers with a fervent faith that eventually someone will listen. The hypocrisy she finds in her church and her will to remain loyal to it despite its flaws is another indication of character rare in such a young girl.

Carla Trujillo creates emotion so sincere in this novel that I am shocked it's a work of fiction. Despite the unique qualities of the young girl, Trujillo's use of voice, metaphor, and characterization make it impossible not to relate to the protagonist. In fact, you'll be rooting for Marci from beginning to end. The plot is entertaining, the characters compelling, the writing captivating, and the ending an uplifting triumph in a story of struggle. Read this book, but be warned- you will be hooked until the end. Trujillo is addicting.

Alena Dillon is a senior English major -- with a concentration in creative writing -- at the University of Connecticut.

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