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Mary’s Pick of the Week: Say Hello to My Little Friend, by Jennine Capo Crucet


Izzy is a frustrated Pitbull impersonator trying to make his way in modern-day Miami until the real-life rapper threatens him to cease and desist.  Having come to America as a seven-year-old from Cuba, he fights to carve out a sense of identity.  Is he a Cuban, or is he an American?  Like many immigrants before him and in the American spirit of reinvention, he decides to emulate another Cuban-American, Tony Montana from Al Pacino’s Scarface.  Employing the assistance of a high school acquaintance as his sidekick, Izzy creates a list of the necessary steps toward his goal in a spiral bound notebook, but his chief concern is how to recreate Tony’s acquisition of a tiger to intimidate his enemies.  Izzy decides to do Tony one better, and that’s where our other main character comes in.  

Lolita is an orca who performs at an aquatic amusement park.  Her chapters are just as amusing and moving as Izzy’s as their destinies inevitably collide.  The author writes from the whale’s perspective with a gimlet eye; she doesn’t anthropomorphize and never lets us forget that Lolita is an apex predator.  “So much of the human brain is devoted to language.  How limiting, how pathetic even, to have evolved toward speaking rather than sensing.  An evolutionary wrong turn: the limits of talking, the circling and circling in a tank too small-in a tank at all”. (69)  Limitations, self-imposed and societal, become the overwhelming focus in this book as the characters each confront roadblocks that become increasingly heartbreaking and tragic.

Ultimately, Crucet’s book becomes a treatise on immigration and all its complications.  Izzy has so many questions about his mother and what made her climb aboard that raft to leave both her life in Cuba and the work she did for the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution. His mother, Alina, was a supporter of Castro who distanced herself from her sister Teresa when Tere came to America.  Izzy becomes curious about his beginnings-like who else was aboard the raft that day when he, like Lolita, was plucked from the ocean.  Tia Tere finally gives him a small list of other people who survived but beyond that, is hesitant to give any more information.  She warns him “Leave that wound alone, Ismael.  That scab is protection.” (107)  Leave behind your preconceptions when you open this book; it’s like nothing else you’ll read all year.

Categories: Books and More

Tags: Books and More

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