I was recently invited to read Houston, We Have a Problema by first-time novelist Gwendolyn Zepeda. Ms. Zepeda has also published a book of short stories and a children's book, all of which are available at Amazon.com.
Jessica Luna is a single woman in her late 20s drifting through life, avoiding making decisions about a career or a man in her life. She relies on what she thinks are "signs" and doesn't pursue things aggressively until she has a sign. She has many people around her who have opinions and suggestions, but ultimately it is the signs and the words of "psychic" Madame Hortensia that she follows.
Jessica has been babied all her life, and now it is hitting her hard. She has a job, but not a career, a man, but not a relationship, and her parents' marriage is falling apart, much to her surprise. Throughout the story Jessica hears the problems of her family members, which have always been kept from her, as the "baby". She also deals with her own stereotypes about people from other backgrounds, whether it be race or socio-economic. In the end, Jessica is more of an adult and is making her own decisions.
There is something about this book that really touched my heart. Not in the sense that I was crying, but that it seemed like the author really cared about the people, places, and dilemmas of which she was writing and wanted me to know them, too. It made me think of Jo's awakening as a writer in Little Women, when Professor Bhaer encourages her to write about "true" characters and places, instead of those she endows with too many virtues or flaws. Being written in the third-person makes each character and event have an almost neutral tone, without the bias of a character's voice. The characters are all interesting and well-written, and I could often see the scene in my head and hear the dialogue, almost as if I were planning a movie script from the book. Jessica's world is Houston's Fourth Ward and Heights neighborhoods, and they are obviously well-loved by Ms. Zepeda. Her passion for the rebirth of the Fourth Ward and the cool shops and homes of the Heights shines in her writing. The Latin and arts communities of Houston are important elements in Jessica's life. Even if I had not read her bio, I would be able to tell that Gwendolyn Zepeda really has lived in this place and knows Jessica's world.
Houston, We Have a Problema is available at Amazon and will be officially in bookstores January 9. It will also be at my local library, because I've suggested they buy it!