a literary review
Set in California in the 1960s and ‘70s, Donna Miscolta’s thirteen linked stories follow “brown, skinny, and bespectacled” Angie Rubio as she grows into the role of advocate and writer in a society that favors neither her race nor her gender. Miscolta, whose own childhood inspired Angie’s, focuses on crux events in each of her title character’s school years, K through 12.
From an early age, Angie perceives herself as an outsider. When she’s a kindergartner, the Rubio family lives in Navy housing in Hawaii. Her fellow classmates’ faces are all pink, pale, freckled, while hers is more “toast, well-done.” She wonders, “Where are the Hawaiians?” The middle sister with a baby brother imminent, she gets little attention. No one in her family has the wherewithal to respond to her curiosity. When she takes a treasured item to school for show-and-tell in hopes of winning her peers’ love and attention, her blue-eyed, blonde doll steals her thunder, confirming her sense that she and her brownness do not belong.
Guided by an omniscient narrator, we watch as Angie’s self-esteem continues to slide. It’s no wonder, as she’s consistently assigned roles like the monster or the butler, instead of the princess or Miss America, when playing pretend with the neighbor girl. As the years progress, we feel her struggles to survive American girlhood: catechism, slumber parties, Brownie troops, training bras, cheerleader tryouts. She also survives, and not without notice, the classicism and racism underlying the foundations of the mostly white Southern California suburb in which she grows up.
Hope, for Angie, lives in words. Since grade 4, the shy, observant girl has kept notebooks, the earliest of which she uses to jot new vocabulary. In grade 5, her notebook contains an article about Sam Cooke and his band being arrested for trying to check in at a whites-only motel in the South. Her teacher dismisses this article “about singers” when Angie presents it as a Current Events topic. As high school rolls around, her notebooks begin to hold stories. “They were just buried deep inside her or floating around in a random sea of inklings and ideas that were waiting to coalesce.”
Read Living Color: Angie Rubio Stories. You’ll have no doubt that this young character is en route to becoming a provocative writer like author Donna Miscolta, capable of sentences that bring light and color to subjects, to reflections, and to smart characters worthy of attention — characters whose history, geography, folklore, and cultural heritage are as “American” as their pale, freckled peers’ calico-bonneted ancestors.
Read Ann Beman’s interview with Donna Miscolta