Liliana’s Invincible Summer by Christina Rivera Garza
Long, planned letters or scribbled notes in the margins of her lecture notes. Poems transcribed cleanly and carefully, over and over again. Song lyrics. The last time she picked up her purple-ink ballpoint pen was on July 15, 1990, at 10:30 AM. Eighteen hours later, according to her death certificate, Lilana stopped breathing” (Liliana’s Invincible Summer)
Years and years and years ago, I decided to go to London alone. It was a wonderful trip. I went to plays and palaces, museums and galleries. One such visit was to the Saatchi Gallery. There was a little room amongst the exhibit of the shark in formaldehyde and the bust of a man carved in frozen blood. The walls of this room were covered in drawings, pages and pages of writing. When you entered the room and began to read, you began to realize that you were reading the journaling of a young teenage girl. She wrote of loves and fears and day-to-day life. Soon you were immersed in the life of this girl, you began to know her a bit, and you definitely began to like her. Near the exhibition’s exit were newspaper articles telling of a murder, her murder. It was one of the most impactful gallery installations I have ever experienced. Since then, I’ve tried to find the name of it online but to no avail.
Why am I sharing this memory? Because while reading Christina Rivera Garza’s book Liliana’s Invincible Summer, I had the same experience.
Garza’s book is a detailed account quest to acquire the police file of her sister Liliana’s murder. With the information from this file, letters, notebooks, journals, photos, interviews and her own memories, Garza pieces together a mosaic, her sister’s tragedy, in an attempt to understand why and how Liliana could have been so brutally murdered by a boyfriend. Garza does this skillfully, not editorializing but rather allowing us, the readers, to be immersed in her sister’s story, slowly getting to know Liliana for ourselves and making her death emotionally impactful.
There are a number of ways I would use this in the classroom as a mentor text. Garza’s writing is incredibly poetic. What could very easily have become a “Dateline” treatment of her sister’s murder ended up instead as an extended poem of sorts, woven with facts and emotion. So the amount of research and how it was organized is extremely impressive.
I also really loved Garza’s sentence structure. I am a huge fan of sentence fragments juxtaposed beside long sentences. I find it SO impactful. “They were always there, bulky and lined up next to each other, on the top shelf of the closet. Seven cardboard boxes and about three or four wooden crates painted in lavender. Liliana’s possessions. (Liliana’s Invincible Summer)
And how beautiful is this sentence: “Childhood ends with a kiss. The dream is not hundreds of years old, and the fleshy mouth does not belong to prince charming, but that pure expectation that is childhood finally comes to an end with a kiss. Lips on lips. Teeth. Saliva. Shortness of breath. Eyes open. Childhood ends with the inauguration of secrecy.” (Liliana’s Invincible Summer) We could talk about SO MANY things (theme, metaphor, allusion, imagery, sentence structure, all with this small excerpt!
This book has so much potential in the classroom.
Thank you to Netgalley and Random House for the free advanced copy.
Liliana’s Invincible Summer will be on shelves February 28th.