The Gallery of Unfinished Girls, by Lauren Karcz
Release Date: July 25, 2017
Rating: DNF at 42%
A beautiful and evocative look at identity and creativity, The Gallery of Unfinished Girls is a stunning debut in magical realism. Perfect for fans of The Walls Around Us and Bone Gap.
Mercedes Moreno is an artist. At least, she thinks she could be, even though she hasn’t been able to paint anything worthwhile in the past year.
Her lack of inspiration might be because her abuela is in a coma. Or the fact that Mercedes is in love with her best friend, Victoria, but is too afraid to admit her true feelings.
Despite Mercedes’s creative block, art starts to show up in unexpected ways. A piano appears on her front lawn one morning, and a mysterious new neighbor invites Mercedes to paint with her at the Red Mangrove Estate.
At the Estate, Mercedes can create in ways she hasn’t ever before. But Mercedes can’t take anything out of the Estate, including her new-found clarity. Mercedes can’t live both lives forever, and ultimately she must choose between this perfect world of art and truth and a much messier reality.
Content Warning for:
Review contains spoilers.
It’s hard out there in the book world for a Latinx person – and even harder for a queer woman who happens to have a name no one can pronounce. So when I saw a queer Latina character in this book, my hopes were high.
They turned out to be too high – for a few reasons.
The Gallery starts out with an attention-grabbing scene – we meet high school senior Mercedes and her younger sister, Angela, in their Florida home. Their mother has just left to be with their ailing abuela in Puerto Rico, so the two are left alone since their father lives with his new girlfriend in Ohio.
The book then dives deep into what can best be described as a weird relationship between Angela and Mercedes (or Mercy for short, because of course Latinx people’s names have to be cut down). I wasn’t expecting a perfect pair – they are sisters, after all – but something about it just seemed off, especially as the part of the book I read went on.
Or maybe the writing style made it weird. I don’t know.
Karcz tells Mercedes’ story in first-person present point-of-view (“I am going to the store” vs. “I went to the store”, for example). It’s not my favorite POV, but I don’t mind reading in it – not this time. Karcz’s writing style jumped from conversational to overly passive and specific so much that it was hard to keep up. It would have also been nice to get a little more clarity on where Mercedes was & who she was interacting with as well. Oftentimes, the book read like an essay by someone who’s trying too hard to reach the word count.
But by far the biggest problem I had with the book was the queer representation – or lack thereof. Like many girls who aren’t completely heterosexual, Mercedes falls hard for her best friend, Victoria. But unlike many cases she… sort of reciprocates? It’s hard to tell. They do share two kisses (spoiler?), but they seem like they’re forced – especially with Victoria’s sometimes-condescending behavior toward Mercedes (“dearie.”).
Then there are Mercedes’ relationships with new neighbor Lilia and longtime friend “Tall Jon.” These, too, are hard to define, which could be seen as amplifying the “bisexuals sleep around” stereotype to some reading the book. I would have also liked to see some kind of connection between Mercedes’ queerness and her being Latinx. We don’t get that often in books, and it disappointed me that this one didn’t go in depth with it.
The book showed some signs of promise, but the overwhelming details, confusing writing, and lack of proper queer representation made it unfinished for me.
Lauren Karcz is a fan of books, dogs, long sentences, Broadway shows, adverbs, and wandering art museums. She’s a professional language nerd, having worked as an ESL teacher, a language test developer, and now as a writer. Lauren lives with her family in Atlanta.
THE GALLERY OF UNFINISHED GIRLS is Lauren’s debut novel, and a Junior Library Guild selection. It releases from HarperTeen / HarperCollins on July 25, 2017.
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I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.