Hersband by Christina Batista

Publisher/Date:  BookSurge Publishing, Dec. 2006
Genre(s): Romance, Hispanic Fiction
Pages:  254
Website:  http://www.hersband.com

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

What starts in the 1960s and ends in the 1990s is the basis for HERSBAND, the semi-autobiographical, debut novel from Christina Batista. Protagonist Dena Vargas is a Brooklyn-born lesbian searching for true love, but instead discovers all kinds of misadventures with women.

With her light skin, curly hair and green eyes, Dena endured being a tomboy and having crushes on girls. She had always been honest with herself and her family about her sexuality, but finding someone to love proved to be the harder task.

After coming out at 20, she begins her foray into the gay world, along with her lesbian cousin Hilda. The women share the experiences and drama of falling and out of in love. Dena’s first encounter occurs when she becomes enamored of Marcy, a woman she meets at a party. Like the story of Cinderella, the pair share one dance, but due to unforeseen circumstances, don’t cross paths again. Dena spends months trying to find Marcy, turning down other available women to find the one she’s meant to be with.

And they do finally come together. And fall in love. And break up. And get back together. And break up yet again. Two years of this leads to the demise of their relationship, and dumps Dena back into the dating pool. This time though, she finds only quick or dead-end flings – and Dena never settles for the status quo.

Yet Dena’s story is far more than just her journey to love. It’s also about parties, dildos, fights, family, and simply a typical coming of age for a lesbian. Dena’s saga culminates when she realizes it’s time to settle down and become an adult – a transition we all have to make one way or another.

Hersband is an amiable novel, written by Batista with a flair for chronicling the life of a Hispanic lesbian. Here’s a character you’ll follow in her passage from a child and to a grown woman. Though slow at first, Hersband builds to a satisfying, cliffhanging finale.

What happens next with Dena, you never know – but you’ll want to find out.

Reviewed June 2008

Memory Mambo by Achy Obejas

Publisher/Date:  Cleis Press, Sept. 1996
Genre:  Hispanic Fiction
Pages:  249
Website:  http://www.achyobejas.com

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

While Achy Obejas’ MEMORY MAMBO starts off slow, by the next few chapters, you will be hooked on Juani Casas and her colorful Hispanic familia. The Casas will weave their way into your heart, dysfunctionalities and all. And believe me, they are dysfunctional with a capital D.

Juani, a Cuban immigrant whose family sought refuge in America, is surrounded by a cast of characters: dad, Alberto, mom Xiomara, and siblings Nena and Pucho. They settle in Chicago after Fidel Castro’s regime takes over the island and her mother decides it’s best to leave.

In America, a new life awaits them. It’s filled with new customs and better opportunities. The Casas family opens a Laundromat where the management is split between Juani and Nena.

Despite their great hardships to arrive in this country and their success here, the Casas and their extended family have serious issues. Papa Alberto drives the family crazy with his conspiracy theories about the U. S. government. Cousin Caridad weathers an abusive husband. Aunt Celia can’t sober her husband or stop him from cheating. And our poor protagonist, Juani, is a lesbian trying to work through her still-fresh break up.

Sounds like your typical all-American Cuban family, right?

In first person, Juani tells the sordid history of her family through flashbacks and with great detail. She gives the reader every idiosyncrasy of every one of her kinfolk. Juani’s vivid details of her life is not chronicled in exact order, but through the memories triggered by everyday events. For instance, a day in her life as a laundromat manager can make her think about the first time the family laid eyes on Jimmy, Caridad’s abusive husband-and how they lived to regret it.

In Memory Mambo, Obejas presents a family with history and, most of all, love. They are fiercely attached to each other, almost to the point of suffocation. Obejas writing is mesmerizing, and proves that no matter what the race, all families are simply the same.

Reviewed December 2005