Try to Remember
By Iris Gomez
368 pages; Grand Central
Gabriela, the smart and engaging teenage immigrant at the center of Iris Gomez's Try to Remember
, faces more than the usual coming-of-age problems. In this captivating debut novel, she has to deal with an increasingly erratic father, who, as the book begins, enlists the 13-year-old to type yet another stack of the alarmingly disjointed missives he's been sending out to potential employers. "There was no connection between one sentence and the next," Gabi says. "Everything went downhill after 'Dear Sir.'" But it's not just the letters. Her father, Roberto, once the loving protector and provider, is becoming prone to paranoia, delusional moneymaking schemes, and violent rages. Setting the story in Miami over a three-year period starting in 1968, Gomez subtly evokes an era shaped by the Vietnam War, women's changing roles, and the growing clout of Cuban exiles, all of which serve as a backdrop to the turbulence inside Gabi's home. Her mother, Evangelina, secretly takes a humiliatingly menial job to support the family, hides important papers from her husband, and slips mood-calming pills into his food—all while insisting that he's suffering from nothing worse than "nervios." Gabi's younger brothers react by sniffing glue and getting into trouble at school. As the family's problems escalate, Gabi chafes against her parents' increasing demands on her. Far from the stereotypical wisecracking rebel or clueless outsider, Gabi is an irresistible narrator—observant, compassionate, and utterly genuine—trying to balance family loyalty and a yearning to discover "Who did I dare to be?"