The cartoonist and writer Eugenio Negro has written an arresting novel that takes the reader directly to the heart of homelessness among a group of Mexican teenagers trying to make sense of their barren, lonely lives in San Jose.
Negro’s BYEBYE AND SHLORT centers on round a teen named Bayani, whose mother was forced to leave the family for the Philippines, and whose father is facing deportation. Bayani worries constantly what will become of her four-year-old brother, who goes back-and-forth from a relative’s home to the backseat of their father’s truck. Bayani hangs with a group of similarly afflicted kids, who sleep in tents in parks and scrounge for food. This book is at many points painful to read, as Bayani longs for her mother and hopes against all odds that her family will be re-united somewhere and somehow.
The writing can be sharp and startling. “The air is January high, high enough to hang clean above the smog. Above her and the scattered trees aimlessly lumber tall pink-tiled office buildings and ugly glass hotels, a bar-graph of boredom in the overexcitement of San Jose.” But is also can be confusing, and some knowledge of street lingo is helpful. A friend of Bayani’s, describing an acquaintance, says “Swear! She gonna pick up a tent next to tweekers and shit with gold-dipped shit she wear? Watch, she playing. I bet she goin get bed for head. No? Ouch for couch? Splat for Mat?” Phrases and words crop up that add to the confusion: “wispy chiss,” and “coastal stratocumulus,” are among them.
New sections are set off by days, times and temperatures” “Tuesday, 1:48 pm 56 degrees.” It is unclear why such demarcations are necessary and what they add to the story. But BYEBYE AND SHLORT has a fresh rawness to it that keeps the reader turning the page. The author is capable of eliciting sympathy for Bayani – Bye for short among her friends – and fury at her aunt, who wants to keep her baby brother only so she can collect more Social Service money.
Despite its shortcomings, the reader will find this an engrossing read. And it raises some profound questions about this country’s anti-immigrant drift and the future of the young whose parents live in a netherworld where they must always keep one step ahead of the authorities.
BYEBYE AND SHLORT is a fascinating, quirky look at the often desperate lives of homeless teens whose parents try to stay a step head of the immigration laws in a California city that cares nothing for them.
~James Bernstein for IndieReader