I always feel a little funny reading “coming-of-age” stories. Maybe it’s because so many of them take place in high school and they don’t reflect my experiences from around the same age. It’s not even that I wish my experiences were the same, but I think it’s hard to not put yourself in the character’s shoes–wonder if you would do the same things, be friends with the same people, put up with the same B.S.
Stephanie Jimenez’s freshman novel They Could Have Named Her Anything had me asking myself those questions a few times throughout my reading it. I found myself comparing high school me to the main character and dreamer María Rosario–maybe just because I’m female, or because I’m Latina, or maybe I just felt like she needed a friend, I don’t know…but I definitely felt a connection to her. All she seems to want, throughout the book, is to find her place in her community and by extension the world, to find a little love, and to go to college; for such a developed character, she’s so simple in her desires that she’s pretty relatable. I think that is the beauty of this story. Even if you can’t empathize with what she’s going through in the novel–self doubt, boy problems, pre-college stress–her character evokes a certain degree of sympathy. Jimenez writes all the characters in such a way that they seem so real, even if their parts are relatively small.
She captures the feeling of a young adult trying to find her place in the world, and she does this not only with María, but with other characters like Rocky and her father Charlie as well. So, while I did enjoy the plot–it’s very relatable, taking place over the course of two partial school years, Jimenez explores the daily life and growing pains of María and her friends in a semi-mundane but realistic chain of events–I loved the characters most. They, and their situations, were believable enough while maintaining a certain “ohmygoodness really?” factor that I had a hard time putting the book down.
Overall, I really enjoyed the book and can’t think of any complaints I had. It was a good length–long enough that I wasn’t wishing for more, but short enough that it had a solid conclusion. The characters were well developed and all given their own voice: Jimenez shifts the focalization between María and Rocky primarily, but she also allows the reader to see the story from Charlie’s perspective as well; this creates a more holistic story.
I can’t really think of a reason why anyone would simply dislike the book, a few parts might make them a little uncomfortable, like some interactions between María and Charlie. But it’s engaging and well written, so I suppose maybe if you don’t like coming-of-age/self-discovery stories, that’s a reason to give it a pass. That said, if you’re open to those sorts of novels and have a day to chill and read, I’d definitely recommend this as a contender.
That’s all I’ve got–you can leave a recommendation for my next book post here, or you can use that link to drop me a note. I’m taking a week off, to find a new book, so I’ll be keeping y’all in suspense for a bit!