Get Lit (or Not): A Review of The Guardians

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It’s still Hispanic History Month for the next 11 hours or so, and to celebrate I thought I’d review Ana Castillo’s new novel

The Guardians

. What a mistake.

The Guardians was actually painful to read. It’s overwrought with “Hey, hey – we’re Latin! Aren’t we cool? Aren’t we cute? Aren’t we exotic?” (Yeah, go ahead and call the Chicanismo police - I said it.) I’ve got nothing against “cool, cute, exotic” but with its labored, badly done writing, The Guardians achieves none of those things.

To start with, Castillo uses Spanglish throughout the book. Normally that would be fine, but Castillo’s Spanglish reads like a Chinese translator was using Eubonic grammar rules to rework pig-Latin. Spanglish, like Eubonics, has its own set of bastardized grammar rules and Castillo manages to ignore them completely: “Sometimes en los evenings, we go out walking again.” Never in all my mumble-mumble years of speaking Spanglish on a daily basis have I ever heard word combinations like these.

Even overlooking Castillo’s cumbersome version of Spanglish, she still has no story. The main character, Regina, who is described as “fiercely independent,” lives in a New Mexico border town. She is raising her nephew, an undocumented immigrant with antiquated manners and hopes of becoming a priest. (Are you dozing off yet?) When the boy’s father disappears crossing from Mexico to the U.S., Regina sets out to find him. (Yawn, yawn.)

Regina is a bit of a conundrum (translation: inconsistent character). She dreams of seeing the world, of going to New York and Europe, but her vision of New Mexico, her homeland, is clouded by the fact that the Southwestern US was once Mexico. (We got it, we got it. A big chunk of the US was once Mexico – and?) She can’t see New Mexico/her world for what it is, for being so preoccupied with what it was.

A teacher’s assistant, she uses big words in an effort to inspire her students: Prerogative, priorities, carnivore. But she is strangely uninspired herself. She wants to help her nephew, her missing brother, a nice male teacher from her school, even a baby whose mother is in jail, but, her daydreams of traveling aside, she has no particular aspirations for herself.

The Guardians is told from three different viewpoints, Regina’s, her nephew Miguel’s and grandfather Milton’s. Each has their own cadence, which makes for a bumpy read rather than a multi-faceted overview.

And finally, the writing just doesn’t work: “I’d rather be pricked by a thousand thorns than have to think about what my little brother may have endured.”

I know the feeling. I would rather have been pricked by a thousand thorns than to have had to have read this book. Or should that be libro?

Ana Castillo reads from The Guardians on Thursday, October 16, at Barnes and Noble, 7626 Westheimer, as part of the Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say reading series. (Shout out to Tony Diaz and the whole Nuestra Palabra crew!) If you go, and you don’t enjoy it, don’t blame me. If, for some odd reason, you do enjoy it, give me a call. I’d love to know what I missed. – Olivia Flores Alvarez

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