Dirty Girls on Top — Alisa Valdez-Rodriguez

Okay, Valdes has really come into her own! In this second installment in the Dirty Girls series, the six sucias are entering their thirties with a panicked, maverick energy. Five years after the close of the first book, Dirty Girls’ Social Club, Lauren and Amoury have hit a rocky moment in their relationship. She constantly battles deep feelings of insecurity, her burgeoning alcoholism, and her unacknowledged bulimia. Plus, she’s got some chronic, awkward heart burn she can’t seem to shake. Usnavys (can I share with you how much I <3 her name?) is back to her old scandalous ways as a man juggler, which puts her relationship with Juan, her stay-at-home husband, in incredible peril. Plus, she thinks her daughter, who’s in love with Batman, trucks, and all things that go SMASH! is en route to lesbianism.* Rebecca has finally made it big with Ella, the magazine she started, but is still having problems with fertility. Sara’s still trying to overcome her history as a domestic violence survivor, even though her cooking show has taken off and she’s starting to date again. Cuicatl is struggling to maintain her authenticity in a music industry that does not respect Mexica politics, and Elizabeth? The woman who gave her the courage to come out left her without a note, leaving Liz as an adoptive single parent.

This sounds complicated, but all the drama is presented extraordinarily engagingly. Plus, in contrast to the Sex in the City bullcrap, these women are presented as agents in their fates — the problem with the men in their lives are symptoms of larger, more long-term issues. Lauren and Usnavys are working through some deep-rooted scripts, and their understanding of that, and their ability to interrupt these scripts, is presenting in a way that emphasizing both their growing maturity and their agency. The 6 sucias have grown from being uncertain college girls, struggling to maintain a sense of Latinidad in Boston, to being accomplished comadres. Even Lauren, the perennial nut of the group, is starting to find her own way.

*This relationship is actually one of the novel’s strengths. Usnavys is carefully presented as an unreliable narrator, so you understand when she’s harping on the 3 year old Carolina that Usnavys is working out some deep-seated issues regarding her understanding of herself as a woman. Carolina is fine, and understanding that is one of Usnavys’ plot arcs.

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