January 03, 2007

Slowly Losing Yourself

This book is a finalist for the graphic novels category of the 2006 Cybil Awards.

They say that sometimes you have to get lost in order to find yourself…but sometimes you just end up lost. Carla, a young woman of Mexican-American descent, decides to leave behind her Stateside frustrations and travel to Mexico to explore the land of her father and the heritage he deprived her of by disappearing. When she shows up on her ex-boyfriend Harry's doorstep in Mexico City, looking for a place to stay, she tells him she's only there temporarily, but she knows in her heart she's in it for the long haul. She's in love with Mexico, "delirious" with it.

But delirious dreams so often hide a darker side, and this is true of Carla's seemingly idyllic new home, too. Though she gets a job teaching English, starts taking Spanish classes, and makes friends with some locals, she becomes annoyed at the exclusivity and apparent self-righteous superiority of trust-fund baby Harry and his Anglo journalist friends. In return, she herself reacts self-righteously, taking the side of her Mexican friends—as she sees it—and ends up alienating the American expats.

She strikes out on her own and finds a roommate and a new place, despite the protestations of her fellow Americans. They don't trust her friend Memo, a rabid Communist who loves to argue with anyone and everyone, especially those he sees as elitist or capitalist. But things really hit the fan when her boyfriend, Oscar, gets mixed up with some shady characters. As Carla's denial and naiveté about the seriousness of her situation reaches epic proportions, something happens that turns her world completely upside down.

La Perdida, written by Jessica Abel and starkly illustrated with expressive black-and-white brush drawings, is a detailed, gripping story—and a Harvey-Award-winning one at that—and well worth reading. It's definitely for older YA readers, probably 14+, due to some mature subject matter, but it's not to be missed.

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