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Yo! by Julia Alvarez

Yo!: A Novel - Julia Alvarez

This is a fun read, in large part because of the format. Each chapter is told by a different character, revolving around one Yolanda Garcia (Yo for short), a writer whom we get to know in a delightful variety of ways: from her sister, her college professor, one of her several husbands, the caretaker of her cousin’s estate in the Dominican Republic, even her creepy stalker. The stories jump around in place and time – some take place in the U.S., some in the D.R. – and feature characters from many walks of life, who have a wide variety of opinions about Yo. She is a complex, colorful character, and it’s fun to see the similarities and differences in the other characters’ portrayals.


Overall, this is a light contemporary read, though there are some forays into darker material (such as the family’s fleeing the D.R. during the Trujillo regime, when Yo and her sisters are children). Alvarez seems to have a good understanding of her own limitations, often missing in authors who attempt multiple narrators; some stories are told in first person and some in third, but she wisely sticks to the third person for characters likely further from her own experience and more difficult to render credibly in first person (a Dominican peasant woman who seeks Yo’s assistance in writing an important letter to her daughter, for instance). It’s a very readable book, and my only real complaint involves the occasionally over-the-top metaphors; the honking of a flight of geese is described as “a cross between a human cry and the trumpets of those angels that are going to descend on the last day to sort out of the good and bad souls like laundry.” I understand the use of figurative language to highlight a character’s background, but that’s a bit much. Leaving Yo in a dangerous place in what seems to be the last story chronologically isn’t my favorite choice either. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this book and think it would be a good book club pick.