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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at SPU chapter.

As an English major at SPU, I have the wonderful opportunity to take classes that cover a wide variety of literary voices. Currently, I am wrapping up one of my favorite courses I have taken, “ENG 3339: United States Latinx Literature.” With Latinx-identifying groups making up the second-largest portion of the US population, I believe their voices to be among the most integral in developing a fuller understanding of the American experience. The novels, poems, and essays I have been able to read by Latinx American authors have broadened my literary perspective and introduced me to some of my new favorite books, one of which being How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez. 

Garcia Girls not only sharpened my extremely fuzzy perception of Dominican culture and history, but also inspired me as a writer, an artist, and a woman. Alvarez’s novel takes readers on a coming-of-age journey with the four Garcia girls, Carla, Sandi, Yolanda, and Sofia as they flee the Dominican Republic, figure out where they fit in in 1970s/80s New York City, fall in and out of love, and reflect on their experiences. I loved this book so much, I convinced my roommate to read it, and I could probably convince you too. 

My first and foremost favorite aspect of Garcia Girls is the timeline. The novel moves backwards, beginning with the girls as women navigating their late 20s/early 30s and ending with the reconjuring of their earliest childhood memories. While this was occasionally confusing, the reversed chronology of the novel was very introspective. For example, I originally perceived that Sandi was quoting her mother Laura’s phrases when she would repeat certain sayings later in the book’s progression. I then realized that, because of the timeline, Laura was actually quoting her daughter, which revealed more about their family dynamic than I had initially noticed. The final sentences of the novel powerfully utilize the timeline as well when Yolanda breaks the fourth wall and recognizes her own reflections throughout the narrative. A reverse chronology is something I have not encountered in literature, and it effectively builds up the characters as real people in a way that is similar to how we might get to know someone in real life: we begin with who someone is now, and map things out backwards in order to humanize them. Garcia Girls’s timeline was incredibly fascinating and I can’t wait to read the book backwards—but forwards for them? Amazing!

The main protagonist Yolanda’s voice was especially inspiring throughout the novel. She is the family’s poet, and this is evident when she narrates the events of the Garcias’ lives. Yolanda speaks in beautiful metaphors and sees things artistically, which is sometimes painful for her. Her various lovers are impossibly frustrating in their misunderstandings of her, which makes the book an excellent testament to the experiences of many women. One of my favorite repeated themes in Garcia Girls is Yolanda’s pursuit of finding someone who loves in the same language as she does—this theme is representative of the literal Spanish/English language barrier Yolanda faces, as well as of her unique and poetic perspective of her relationships. Yolanda’s words may seem cryptic on the surface, but are actually quite easily understandable and even relatable at times if given the right contemplation. 

Yolanda’s voice is certainly not the only one we hear! Alvarez fills the pages with all four of the Garcia girls’ perspectives. We even get to hear from the family matriarch, Laura, briefly. The multiplicity of feminine experience that Alvarez creates in one family is quite amazing and makes for the richest possible read. Both unity and variety are illustrated in the Garcia family’s story by the juxtaposition of the girls’ shared experiences and varied perceptions/recollections of those memories. Each daughter brings something new to the table: Carla becomes a child psychologist, Sandi battles mental illness and eating disorders, Yolanda writes poetry, and Sofia rebels against the parents much more than the others, becoming a world traveler and marrying impulsively. Such wildly different disciplines and experiences are synthesized perfectly to tell the Garcia family’s story in a delightful way. 

Julia Alvarez truly outdid herself with Garcia Girls, and I am now itching to read more of her novels. The imagery, character developments, and plot structure of this novel made for a relatable and inspiring read that I wish I could relive for the first time. Not only was it a fantastic literary encounter, but also an effective teacher of Alvarez’s Dominican American experience that did not indulge in offensive stereotypes or caricatures. Reading authors of all backgrounds is so important, and I am so grateful to have How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents as evidence for this!

Hello! I am an alum of Seattle Pacific University, with a degree in Visual Arts and English Literature. I previously served as the Campus Correspondent as well as the Senior Editor at HC SPU chapter. I am originally from the Olympic Peninsula area of Washington. Some of my interests include outdoor recreation, collaging, reading, and writing.