I recently finished Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore.  Do not let the title fool you, this is not about love or candy.  This tragic breathtaking debut novel begins with the brutal rape of fourteen-year-old Gloria Ramírez. 

Based in Odessa, Texas you get enveloped in the lives of the characters as they face conflict over what is right and what is just.  The men convinced that Dale Strickland is innocent begin to harass a mother of two who saved Gloria in the wee hours of February 15, 1976.

The author captivates you with every word as she lays out the complexities of a small town that is rooted in racism and “traditional” ideology.  The horror of what happened in this oil booming town is not only divisive, but heartbreaking. 

As I read through this heart wrenching book, I could see bits and pieces of my hometown in the pages.  I think anyone who was raised in a small town can find bits and pieces of their lives in this novel.  Whether it’s the nosey neighbors or how fast gossip travels in small towns or the blatant racism you are subjected to, a piece of us lives in the pages of Valentine.

One of the issues that resonated with me is the conflict that women face daily.  Do we smile and go along with the “boys will be boys” narrative that is shoved down our throats since adolescence or do we do what is right and speak out against the wrong doings of these boys?  This really struck a chord because as a proud aunt, I have voiced to my nieces that if someone does something they do not like or consent to that they need to speak out or tell someone that can help them.  The author does a great job at finding balance when the characters are tackling this issue.

What I like most about this book is that it is written in the voices of the people who have been affected by the rape of Gloria Ramirez.  The execution of painting the characters daily struggle is beautifully done.  She does a great job at detailing how this heinous crime bleeds into the lives of the community as they try to grapple with the brutality of it and deal with the racism that fuels the beliefs of those who blame the victim.  

As a Latina, I had a hard time taking in the derogatory statements made about Gloria.  As though the violation of her body did not matter because she was seen less than her white counterparts.  It angered me because I could see myself in Gloria, and it made me sad to know that there are people who have a disregard for women’s lives, especially those of minority women.

As heart wrenching as this novel is, I recommend you read it.  The story about a community divided by crime, race, and class is one that we can all relate to.  It unravels the hardships that we all face when dealt an awful hand in life and it the trauma that comes with it.