Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Living Color: Angie Rubio Stories by Donna Miscolta

At just 286 pages, I should have been able to zip right through Donna Miscolta's latest collection of stories, Living Color: Angie Rubio Stories. But there was such a sadness to the collection that I had to swallow it in small bites. Living Color follows Angie from kindergarten through high school, each chapter dedicated to a different year of her life growing up in the late 60s through the 70s.

Kindergarten Angie lives in Navy housing in Hawaii, where her father is stationed, before moving back to California where her family is originally from. The middle child of three, soon to be four, she's overlooked by an exhausted mother and often distracted father, ignored and dismissed by her older sister, and spied upon by her younger sister. It's heartbreaking to watch a young Angie at first long for her family's attention and eventually learn to accept that she's never going to be enough of whatever it takes to make her someone worthy of their attention or affection. The members of her family always seem to be in a bit of survival mode and she always seems to be an afterthought, which is most apparent in her senior year.

Had she had a more fulfilling relationship with school friends or neighborhood children, Angie's stories wouldn't have seemed so sad, but with the exception of one person, her friendships with her peers seemed to be fleeting and she often found herself an outsider. Interestingly enough, it's not her "brownness" that sets her apart from her classmates. Angie is just weird and awkward and can't seem to figure out how not to be. I think this, coupled with her family dynamic, made this a really difficult read for me.

Another thing that threw me off - the author, like so many white authors, makes white characters the default. Nowhere is this more apparent than the introduction of a Black character. Up until that point, we know Angie is Mexican-American, but rarely if ever is the race of any of her classmates brought up, aside from a reference to the color of someone's hair, which doesn't quite tell the reader what race that person is. But the first time a Black person shows up in the story, his color is immediately referenced, though it doesn't add anything to the story in particular, which tells me that she saw all of the white people around her as the default, but this boy was "different" from her norm. There's another reference to a Filipino classmate where it's important for us to know that he wasn't white, so I don't want you to think I had a problem with the author noting race or ethnicity in all instances, I'd just like authors to be more aware of their biases when writing and recognize that white characters don't have to be and shouldn't be the default in their stories.

Disclaimer: A copy of this book was received from the publisher; opinions are my own.

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