READERS TELL ALL.
Aya De León is a writer to watch. With that being said, and with the recognition I can only speak so much in depth about her brilliant new novel, Side Chick Nation, without revealing too much of the plot and ruining it from you, I will refrain from giving too many plot details. I will say the book consists of: kick ass women, all the dark and noir-ish settings like Miami with prostitutes and pimps and drugs, violence and fear, and strangely enough hope. Aya is a writer who is not afraid to tackle the hard topics. She dives straight into how America, the "official" America, the America with 50 states where people will not recognize any territories or people who do not live in these states--she knows how the people of these other places are mistreated, destroyed, and often forgotten. She is not afraid to point out that one of the biggest crimes--although not the only crime in this brilliant novel--is act of doing nothing.
As mentioned above, "destroyed" might not be the best word to describe Aya's book and characters. In fact, I would use something of the opposite: resilient, hardcore, ready-to-fight, ready-to-win (acknowledging these last two aren't one word), the determination to survive no matter what. I think of reading about Joyce Carol Oates loving Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, but stating she appreciates survivors more, people who fight through life at all costs. Well, you might say Aya is like Oates' characters, and yet turned into superheroes, fighting. against impossible events for help, for understanding, for truth. The victims of the hurricane, and those people who have suffered and still suffer around the globe, are often silenced by America. We continue to have so many shootings because there is no gun control. We continue to have more fights over a wall between Mexico and the United States, and we forget these people who are suffering, who have long suffered, and who fight viciously and determinedly to live. I can't imagine a more admirable quality--not just resilience, but a word we don't have in the English language for those who are not just resilient but will fight and destroy anyone and everything to survive and get hope and truth. This is past relentless, this is past determination. It's a quality Aya spots and delivers in her characters.
I have laughed reading Side Chick Nation. I have maybe teared up a bit during the novel, too (I'm not a big cryer, although give me a Larry McMurtry or Laura Lippman novel and I'll get close to bawling). This is the badass, crime-fueled epic you've been waiting for. Dulce, who you might consider the protagonist of the novel, makes an escape from a violent past to a world in Santo Domingo, a world which may be even more frightening. She, like so many of us, feels that because of her past she cannot truly be loved. Her feeling of inadequacy, her belief she's not someone great, someone amazing, this could be her downfall. But don't forget she's a fighter, just like many characters in this book. In the novel we see a spiraling, sprawling beauty of an epic, with drugs, those fighting for money, those abusing women and forcing them to prostitute themselves, strong hurricanes ripping towns and entire islands to shreds. The book is a non-stop thrilled ride, balanced miraculously by Aya De León's beautiful prose. She's a phenomenal writer, someone who can build tension, drag out dread and suspense, but also so carefully discern and describe the innermost workings of the characters she writes about. Aya is not afraid to dive deep in to the issues many people are afraid to discuss. I wouldn't write off Aya as not being affected by these crimes and tragedies; instead I would applaud Aya, as she, like anyone else practicing empathy and love, must struggle past difficulties and hurdles like her characters to get to an epic, amazing third act, the finish line, the part we are tearing through the pages to reach.
I've read Side Chick Nation twice already. The book is brilliant, from its prose and characters, to the suspense and dread Aya is able to create in any situation. Read Side Chick Nation and Aya's other books. You want regret it one bit. The book is also available in audiobook format. Such a wonderful treat, brilliant and absorbing, epic and fleeting, a striking commentary on so many aspects of the country many of us reside in, the neglectful people here, the survivors in places we pray for but never help. Send your love, send your money, and buy this book. It's a damn good novel. Not to mention, the way the author will often use different words from various languages, to show that in America, things aren't black-and-white, we cannot vote that way, we cannot think that way, we cannot live that way. Using these words, the words we do not have an English equivalent of, they remind you of the importance of understanding others, reading everything, listening to everything, learning everything. Some ideas are abstract, all people are complicated, nothing is life is easy, and we should never group someone into right or wrong, good or bad, worthwhile or worthless. Learn, love, and don't just survive. Fight until you get what you need, or go out swinging. Again, such a lovely book.
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