review: Down to the Bone


title: Down to the Bone
Author: Mayra Lazara Dole
date: Harper Collins 2008
main character: Laura


It’s close to the last day in this Miami high school and a love letter has Laura fantasizing about celebrating her anniversary with Marlena, the love of her life. The daydream is cut short when Sister Asunción snatches the letter from her hand and GASP!! reads it aloud to the entire class.

Laura is outed. The word I remember from that scene is “tortillera”. I didn’t need the glossary to figure that one out.

The rather conservative nuns kick Laura out of school and her mother kicks her out of her home for not revealing her lover’s name. All seem to think it is a sin against all that is good and righteous for Laura to love women. Her immediate problem becomes needing a place to live in one but, the larger one is figuring out who and what she really is.

Her lover is written as a shady kind of lady who readers will view as reciprocating no real love toward Laura. She’s written in a way that allow readers to vest more interest in Laura getting on with her life rather than back with Marlena. Getting on with her life means accepting what it means to love women, to be queer and to able to say that word out loud.

Laura was thrown out of her conservative, upwardly mobile Cuban American home and she heads to her friend Soli’s home where life is completely different. It is musical, bright and accepting. Upon meeting Tazer at the beach, Laura comments that Tazer looks like a cute surfer boy and her sleek, dark sunglasses make her look hip. Tazer? Is that a Cuban name? While it’s actually short for Tazmina, we’re being clued into the fact that we’re about to find out that Cuban Americans are not a monolithic culture group. Tazer explains what it means to be genderqueer and specifically a boi in a way that is meant for readers outside the queer community. It’s informative, but flows as part of the story because Laura has never considered neither her sexual orientation nor her gender identity. She doesn’t know about these things.

I like the awareness to socio-economic groups that Dole provides and the fluid way Laura travels through them. Soli and her mom in their cramped apartment are clearly working class while Tazer and her dad are upper income living in their sprawling mansion. This working class family lives happily within their means just as Tazer and her dad do. Dole presents so many diverse lifestyles without accentuating them, making them normal parts of life, similar to how it is in real life. She takes the time to include these important observations in her story, validating many realities. Tazer and her dad are a family, as are Soli, her mom and now  including Laura. Laura’s mom, stepdad and brother are a family as well. That’s life.

Down to the Bone conveys a lot of the pain and hurt endured by too many in the queer community, but it is also filled with the joy of finding one’s self and one’s community of friends and family. I was a little late on this one, but that’s OK. Good books with good messages will endure.