Barbie Chang by Victoria Chang Review on PI Online

barbiechang-200x300Barbie Chang
by Victoria Chang
Copper Canyon Press, 2017, $16
ISBN: 978-1-55659-516-5
Reviewed by Valorie K. Ruiz

Barbie Chang, the newest publication from award-winning writer Victoria Chang, is an intelligent and absolutely moving collection that uses our connotations of “Barbie” to create a narrative that is surprising, revealing, and ultimately extremely relevant. This book is divided into four sections with each section giving us a new perspective on the life of the persona “Barbie Chang”. The one unchanging element through each section is the innovative use of language both in sound, form, and playful rhythm. By the end of the collection (which I would like to argue can also be considered a memoir in verse) we have grown to understand the many layers of Barbie Chang, through her history, her interactions with loved ones, and the way she moves through the world.

Read full review on Poetry International Blog Online.

Mexican Whiteboy Book Review

Matt de la Peña’s Mexican Whiteboy is filled with characters attempting to shape their identity. The protagonist Danny, spends a summer visiting his estranged father’s family in National City in an effort to reconnect to his Mexican heritage. This emotional story is amplified in intensity with Danny’s many attempts to connect with a father who feels equally out of reach. As the summer trip comes to an end, Danny feels he must decide between the many sides of who he is. With the help of other characters, especially Sofia (his cousin) and Uno, Danny finds acceptance in his inability to be categorized in just one way.

This book has a captivating form that made me keep reading until the book light batteries ran out. The alternating perspectives of this book give immediate insight to the reader. In one part of the story, Danny begins pulling away from his family after a fight. Though it doesn’t seem to be affecting them (in his mind anyway), we see how affected his cousin Sofia is through a private scene with Uno. There were many times in my youth where I felt the need to withhold internal struggles from the people I cared about because of the fear that it was “too much”, and this isn’t uncommon. We care so much about the people we love that that we worry our thoughts might be too burdensome for them. This same protective instinct connected me to Danny.

2815261           Mexican Whiteboy is filled with characters who remind me of home, and I know I’m not the first to say this. This is one of the first books that I felt captured the deep sense of family loyalty I was accustomed to growing up. Even though Danny wants desperately to be like his father’s side of the family, this need causes him to act against his own nature. The more he attempts to be like his father’s family, the further he finds himself from them. These type of contemplations pop up in many of the other characters’ lives as well. The private scenes between Uno and his family are equally as compelling. While Danny has been attempting to define himself away from his father and mother, Uno is a bit of a contrast. Uno’s struggles occur because of a push pull he feels from both his mother and father. These relationships are mirrored in Uno’s cultural identity as well. Uno, like Danny, has felt torn because of his dual heritage, but for Uno it’s an attempt to find balance between being Black and Mexican.

Part of what makes me connect to this book is the real variety of character backgrounds, personalities, and identities. The struggle to form an identity is universal, but when paired with a mixed cultural upbringing, the desire to belong becomes can create many subconscious changes. It was common for Danny to turn away from his Mexican heritage because it wasn’t entwined in the life he had with his American mother. This book perfectly captured the struggle I remember feeling as I sought to understand my own identity. Like Danny, I felt the need to pick a side. I felt the need to diminish one culture in favor of another because I wasn’t born “there” but I also might not have ever been “here” were it not for my family’s wandering hearts. It wasn’t only Danny who I connected to, but Uno as well for similar reasons.

This book deals with many aspects of identity and the effects of trying to face these emotional questions alone. There are a few scenes where Danny uses self-harm in an attempt to cope with his life around him. This coping behavior is one not often discussed, and easily overlooked or minimized in seriousness. It was an important element I felt necessary to mention because many people struggle to understand this behavior, but Mexican Whiteboy shares it in an honest way that gives insight into why people might self-harm. It’s also important to note that self-harm can come in many ways, and Danny reiterates that. This book is an outstanding read that, in a way, made my teen-self feel heard, seen, and acknowledged.

Yes, everything you went through was very real and difficult, but like Danny, you made it through and will continue to discover who you are.

Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho: My Experience

14311This book captivated me immediately. The story starts with the protagonist, Veronika waking in the hospital, after she has recently attempted suicide with sleeping pills. She describes herself as a boring woman, who lives a life everyone thinks is perfect.  “She had managed to appear utterly independent when she was, in fact, desperately in need of company. When she entered a room everyone would turn to look at her, but she almost always ended the night alone, in the convent, watching a TV that she hadn’t even bothered tohave properly tuned.” (67 Coelho) She sounded average, but the description of her subtle actions made me want to know more. I read on, almost frustrated at the protagonist, because I swore she had depth she refused to admit. When Veronika wakes in an asylum, she asks about her condition. The doctor informs her about irreversible damage on her heart from medication. Veronika is told she has about a week to live, and the book takes place over the course of this last week.


This books deals heavily with internal conflicts. The chapters are short, and a few of them seem private, almost voyeuristic. The story progresses as Veronika finds her passion for life. She starts speaking her mind more freely, and doing what she wants with no regrets. Expressing herself causes her to wonder about these other aspects of her self, and how long she’s been this way. Paulo Coelho captures the conflict of wanting to die, but not feeling quite ready, in a way that feels too real. I enjoyed this book, and it felt very appropriate for some of the life changes I’m seeing now.


There are other secondary characters in this book who also see some major changes. Mari a long term resident of Villete (the asylum) considers her reasons for being a resident. Veronika has an impact on every character she meets in the week.  I anticipated the ending about half way through the story, but it was wrapped up so beautifully, it was still a gift. I’ve already read The Alchemist, and I have Brida to read next. Has anyone else enjoyed this title, or others from Coelho?

One word I learned while reading this title:

1.) Minstrels: “Like the ancient minstrels, he begant to write her poems, in the hope of one day marrying her.” (57 Coelho).

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines minstrel as “a musical entertainer in the middle ages.”.

Veronika Decides to Die (Goodreads Link)