From the colorful cover and trendy title, you might be inclined to dismiss "The Dirty Girls Social Club" as just another best-selling chick-lit novel that seems to be all the rage these days, but you'd be missing out.
"The Dirty Girls Social Club" is a beach book and it is topping the bestseller list right now (and the movie rights were recently optioned by Jennifer Lopez), but it's definitely not like most of the other summer novels out there.
The story is about six Latina friends from Boston University who still get together regularly seven years later: Sara, Lauren, Rebecca, Usnavys, Amber, and Elizabeth. Besides illustrating the range of ethnic diversity within the "Latina" category, the six friends also have very different temperaments and a variety of careers, including news anchor, public affairs VP for a national non-profit, magazine publisher, newspaper columnist, singer, and stay-at-home mom.
One thing they all have in common besides their friendship, however, is secrets that they keep, both from one another and from themselves.
Elizabeth's secret is that she is a closeted lesbian. A Columbian-born, born-again Christian who worked her way through college as a runway model and is now a well-known news anchor in Boston, Liz is the most beautiful of the friends but confounds them with her inability to sustain a relationship with a man.
Until now, Elizabeth hasn't been able to tell them the reason why, since she has only recently admitted it to herself. She is afraid her friends will reject her if they find out, not to mention what it will do to her career. Complicating things further is her new relationship with a white, butch, out lesbian poet named Selwyn, whom she loves but doesn't think her friends would approve of:
[Selwyn] wouldn't make a good impression on them. I'm sure of that. She is bulky, and she wears plaid flannel shirts and loose-fitting men's work pants. Her hair is short, and that might please Rebecca, but she only puts earrings in one ear, and then there are at least five of them, hard silver hoops. That would not please any of them. That would send them running for the nearest door. They're like that. They wouldn't be able to see pas their own misplaced instincts in order to appreciate Selwyn's eyes. Dark brown, on fire eyes. Lit up with humor. Lit up with life. She wouldn't make a good impression. Not on them. But she did on me. She did on me. She did.
As is to be expected, the secrets tumble out as the novel progresses, as each woman grapples with challenges in her career, relationship, and friendships, and Elizabeth's secret is no exception. When she is outed by a tabloid, she finds that although the impact on her career is predictably negative, her friends react in unexpected ways, finally giving her the courage to chart a new course for her life.
Writing alternately in the voices of each of the characters, Valdes-Rodriguez keeps the story engaging and humorous despite tackling some heavy issues, like racism, homophobia, sexism, and violence against women.
The novel succeeds in making its six main characters distinct and well-rounded; although each of the women have admirable traits, they are also each flawed in their own way. Valdes-Rodriguez is not subtle in making her point that Latina women are very diverse, but she does wrap her message in humor, such as in this passage in the opening chapter in which Lauren describes her job interview at the newspaper:
With a name like Lauren Fernandez, they figured [speaking] Spanish was part of the package. But that's the American disease as I see it: Rampant, illogical stereotyping. We would not be American without it. I admit I didn't tell them I was half white trash, born and raised in New Orleans. My mom's people are bayou swamp monsters with oil under their fingernails and a rusty olive-green washing machine in front of the double-wide, the kind of people you see on Cops, where the guy is skinny as a week-dead kitten, covered with swastika tattoos and crying because the police blew up his meth lab. Those are my people. Them and New Jersey Cubans with shiny white shoes.
"The Dirty Girls Social Club" is a fun, breezy book that provides a well-written glimpse into the intersecting lives of six women who are still trying to make sense of it all. What differentiates this novel from all the others is its ability to break down stereotypes about both Latinas and lesbians, which is more than worth a little heavy-handed preaching here and there.