“You remembered what Becky had said all those times about earning things, waiting for them, paying your dues through hard work and patience, going without in order to come out good in the end. The other option? Going for broke. Running wild and leaping toward the first sign of breakneck success.”
Author: Joe Jiménez
Fiction ♦ 131 pages ♦ Arte Pública Press, 2016
*The publisher provided me a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.*
This review is a lot more raw than previous reviews. It’s profoundly more personal. This book is undeniably personal, devoted to the magic of love and the reality of consequence. It left me aching for more, sobbing on the couch, yearning to hold all those I love, unable to express exactly what it was I’m feeling in this moment. That was only ten minutes ago, and I found myself at this keyboard to exorcise the need to communicate the vitality of this experience.
Author Joe Jiménez has perfectly crafted the portrait of a seventeen-year-old Mexican-American boy addicted to the rush of fighting and the fight to feel the rush of life. The boy, Abram, lives with his grandmother and her partner, Becky. His father is dead; his mother left him at age 3. It’s not even Thanksgiving, and Abram’s already been suspended from school twice for fighting. Not knowing how to reach him but desperate to save him, Abram’s grandmother makes a decision with far-reaching consequences: Abram needs a man in his life to teach him what she feels she can’t. She invites his uncle Claudio into the house. Both Becky and Abram feel this is a huge mistake–Claudio is loud, violent, trouble-making, unstable, aggressive. Still, Abram finds himself enjoying the attention from his uncle, who takes him to the gym and teaches him about channeling his energy into productive measure. But when Claudio pressures him to join an underground boxing ring, Abram must decide where his worth lies and what kind of man he wants to be.
Within the first two paragraphs I knew this book is important. It’s written in prose but reads like a poem, propelling the reader into the world of a troubled teen who desperately wants to be good, to be kind, to show the immense love he feels in his heart–but who sees himself as torcino (twisted) and has absolutely no idea how to build a different life for himself.
Abram speaks entirely in 2nd person, immediately engaging the reader, who then lives the reality of Abram’s experiences and thoughts, sees the world entirely from his perspective, his perspective that is filled with pain (“A year ago, your grandmother hung the Saint Michael over the dark hole in the wall you punched one afternoon when everything seemed small and lightless and unfair and wicked”) and love (“the simple facts of your life: that you love your grandmother, that November is when the pecans fall to the ground, that Ophelia is smart and kind and beautiful”) and hate (“you wish you could lift him up by his neck and hurl him out of this house. Hurl him so hard that he would land in Saint Petersburg or Anchorage with the other wolves”) and the minute inspirations and random thoughts that are imbued with the beauty of the moment (“At the old table with its cloth the color of watermelon hearts, your grandmother stirs a lump of sugar into her red cup. Like a swan, steam flutters”).
The characters breathe their own air. In no way are they stock or token or flat. They are few, they are complex, they are living. Abram’s grandmother struggles over the question her partner Becky asks, “Better to have no man around than a bad one, right?” Becky herself is a kind, considerate, but unwavering force in Abram’s life, embracing him and guiding him. Ophelia, Abram’s first love, has a mother in Afghanistan and an abusive aunt, but her quietly optimistic outlook on life holds Abram afloat as he struggles with anxiety, hopelessness, and despair. Even Claudio has his small share of redeeming qualities–listening to Abram’s wish for a dog, teaching him to focus his energies, and though his impulses paint him as a villain, he is a prime example of a man that ultimately is also trying to make it through life in a world that is utterly unfair to certain members of society.
Without even realizing it, the reader is asked to consider questions of the basis of life. At its core, this book is dedicated to the question, “Are some people just born bad, or are they made that way?” Abram recounts an experience in his biology class where the day’s lesson revolved around the genetics of the supposed “warrior gene,” and his unshakable gut feeling that, because of his father and his uncle and all the men of his family who burned and beat down their own lives, he is doomed to repeat their failures. How is it that people like Ophelia are able to maintain such faith in others while he is grateful to just make it through another moment without collapsing into the black hole of his impulses?
With this book, Joe Jiménez shatters the illusions that the privileged members of society surround themselves with when it comes to their disregard of life after birth for those who are forced to live in a state of existential crisis. I want to give this book to anyone who works with teens, with the poor, with the lost. I want to give this book to anyone who is lost, to those boys and girls who feel that their lives are meaningless but who desperately want to be heard at the same time.
About the Author
Joe Jiménez* is the author of The Possibilities of Mud (Kórima 2014) and Bloodline, a young adult novel (Arte Público 2016). Jiménez is the recipient of the 2016 Letras Latinas/ Red Hen Press Poetry Prize and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles. The short film “El Abuelo,” based on Jiménez’s poem, has been screened in Belgium, the Netherlands, Mexico, France, Argentina, Ireland, England, and the US. He lives in San Antonio, Texas, and is a member of the Macondo Workshops. *(from the author’s website, JoeJimenez.net).
To learn more about Joe Jiménez and his work, please visit his website or follow him on Twitter and Goodreads. To add Bloodline to your TBR, go here; to order it from the publisher (support small press publishers!), please visit Arte Pública Press.