I am afraid I now have this lingering sadness -- the kind you get after leaving the warmth of the Caribbean to go back to February in the Northeast. Ms. Dole is the queen of setting. I felt like I lived there on that Miami strip with Papaya's and Cha Cha's restaurant and the smell of the sea and the sun burning the fog away. And the food! I was hungry the whole time I was reading!
In DOWN TO THE BONE, Dole explores issues of sexuality, gender, class, religion and spirituality, and family and community using a deft, but subtle touch. Laura, the Cuban-American protagonist, is immensely likable, and her best friend, Soli, is utterly adorable. I loved that Soli was not introduced like: HERE IS THE BLACK FRIEND. She was Soli, first. Then, through Dole's sensitive and quiet, but evocative descriptions, we get a full picture of Soli as an Afro-Latina. Likewise, with Gisela and Viva (I won't tell you who these characters are--you will have to read the book!).
I was quite impressed with Dole's stellar portrayal of the complexity of spirituality without ever becoming heavy-handed or didactic. There was the incident that got Laura kicked out of Catholic school (the teacher read a love letter to Laura from her girlfriend OUT LOUD TO THE WHOLE CLASS) and her mother's response to it (think: "immoral," "sinner," etc.); then there is the religion that best friend Soli's mother practices (metaphysical and all about love); and, of course, Laura's own views on how the world/god works (she refers to "Sacred Nature"). Such a wonderful way to weave in differing perspectives on religion and spirituality!
One thing, though: I am glad that I did not realize there was a glossary of terms in the back. That would have annoyed me from the beginning. I didn't find the Spanish words jarring in the least -- it would've been more jarring to stop the flow of words and flip to the back for a meaning every time there was a non-English word. I don't speak Spanish fluently, but I loved reading the rhythm of the words and saying them out loud when I was alone*.
DOWN TO THE BONE was a totally fun read, full of heart, angst, and love. Laura is beautifully flawed, tender, but tough, and you can't help but want her to find true love and live happily ever after. If you haven't read it already, get it here! And if you have, get it for a friend :).
*Yes, these are the things I do when I am alone.