I knew from the very first sentence of Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend, by Erika T. Wurth, that I was reading a young adult novel like no other–that the voice was going to be entirely original, the setting one of those “invisible” communities in the U.S., the plot something I could never predict, and a character I would thoroughly root for and love and worry about. I scarfed this book down in one sitting. And then I went back and read it again.
Margaritte is a foul-mouthed, book-loving, drug-dealing 16-year-old Native American growing up in a Colorado town where alcoholism, drug use, welfare, and teen pregnancy rule the day. She’s proud of her heritage, wants to be exactly who she is, but also wants to escape. This is why she deals drugs. She’s saving money…for college. Into the picture bursts a young man. Of course. A young man who recognizes and responds to her intelligence, creativity, and unique sense of humor–but who just may be her downfall.
You want a book that deals honestly (perhaps so honestly, it’ll be offensive) and sensitively with problems of alcoholism, drug use, teen pregnancy, abortion, the challenges smart brown girls face when they try to escape the things in their life dragging them down? This is your book.
To be honest, this is a novel you probably haven’t heard of. It wasn’t marketed as a young adult novel by the wonderful people at Curbside Splendor. But it is a young adult novel and it’s one of the best ones published in 2014. It’s gotten panned by a lot of the big critics. That’s because they didn’t get it. A lot of times when people say they want diverse books, what they are really looking for is a book that happens to have a protagonist of color but the protagonist of color is relatively assimilated to the values of middle-class white culture. This is not one of those books. At all. This is a book to read if you want to open your mind and get rid of some stereotypes. This is a book to read if you want to see what it’s really like for a Native American girl to grow up off the res but in a community with lots of other Native Americans.
I’ve also included here the video for a Google Hangout conversation with Erika and Isabel Quinteros, author of Gabi, a Girl in Pieces, moderated by Lee Byrd, editor at Cinco Puntos Press. The author conversation series, #pandulce, is an attempt to celebrate all the many wonderful diverse books emerging from the small press world. Hope you enjoy it!