Barbara the Slut and Other People is a collection of eight short stories that tackle everything about family, friends, and lovers, and the flaws that make us most human.
HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO TALK TO YOU?: 4/5 stars
In Mexico City customs, twenty-year-old Lala has fifty pairs of Victoria’s Secret underwear with tags on them in her suitcase. They were for her mom to sell to the teenagers in her town for a markup of three hundred percent.
Lala said she would do it because she hadn’t visited her mom in three years. And also, she was supposed to use this trip to tell her she was gay.
“So, are there any boys I should know about?” said my mom. Always her first question.
“Nope,” I said. “Still no boys.” That was always my answer, and she never seemed to think it was weird or some kind of clue, which she shouldn’t have needed anyway. Shouldn’t she have noticed when I was born? Wasn’t there something about me that told her I was going to grow up to cut my hair and wear sturdy underwear and date a girl who brought her leather biker boots to textile recycling and then bought vegan ones? And if not when I was born, she should have noticed in elementary school when I was obsessed with amphibians and reptiles and with my friend Emily. And if still not then, she definitely would have noticed in middle school, when I hit puberty and was really confused and, according to my dad, really weird. But she was already gone.”
I loved the writing and the setting of this story. The beach is my favorite place, so visiting it in writing was just as magical.
“At the end of the day we went back to the beach to watch the sunset. My mom said that when the sun set in Pie de la Cuesta, it lit up the backs of the waves, and you could see the silhouettes of kids swimming. Tonight the waves were too small, although they didn’t look small to me. If I were braver I would have gone in and felt the water rush over my body and my head, and I probably would have been fine. But I was scared. My mom wasn’t one to tell me something was dangerous if it wasn’t. And she was sometimes one to tell me something was safe when it wasn’t.”
The imagery in the caption above was stunning.
And after talking to her girlfriend, Dana, Lala eventually opens up and tells her mother that she’s into girls.
“Are you going to tell her when she gets back?”
“Yes,” I said. “Of course, I’ll tell her right away.”
“Are you being sarcastic?”
“Not at all,” I said. “Maybe I’ll hide in the kitchen and when she comes in I’ll jump out and shout, ‘I’m gay!’”
“You’re being sarcastic.”
It was a good opening to this collection of stories and an interesting exploration of their relationship as mother-daughter, but I still would’ve loved to uncover more.
WEEKEND WITH BETH, KELLY, MUSCLE, AND PAMMY: 3/5 stars
Told from the point of view of Jason, who’s not quite sure how he should feel towards his volatile friend, Beth.
It was a pretty timid and average read. The writing wasn’t as compelling in this story as it was in the last one. But I really appreciated the quiet humor thrown into the dialogue.
“My friends might have called her a slut, but I didn’t have any friends. And when I was in high school my mom sat me down to talk about the word “slut” and to give me a general lecture about how to make her proud despite my being a man.”
I’m the mom.
And what I slowly started to notice throughout this collection was that the endings weren’t really endings. They just felt like endings of chapters in books.
MIKE ANONYMOUS: 2.5/5 stars
Mike Anonymous calls the clinic and Vivian, our narrator, who’s a quarter Japanese, was made to pick up the phone because Mike has an Asian accent, so naturally that makes sense for people…
“They always made me pick up when someone with an Asian accent called, like I could speak a word of any Asian language, which I couldn’t.”
The overall storyline was a bit confusing because half of the time we were trying to figure out what Mike Anonymous was trying to convey, and in the other half Vivian was performing STD testings. I’m still a bit confused and underwhelmed.
I WILL CRAWL TO RALEIGH IF I HAVE TO: 2/5 stars
Natalie and her mom were on their way to Emerald Isle and Natalie’s plan to break up with her boyfriend goes awry when the muffler fell off of the car right before the exit they needed to take to Raleigh, and her mom said they couldn’t stop anymore.
They eventually arrive at Emerald Isle, where we get to see just how selfish and mundane our main character is. Her problems felt like such #whitepeopleproblems that bringing myself to care for them felt extremely unlikely.
But I did like that this story was also set at the beach:
“I waded into the cold water and then dove. I swam along the sand for a few minutes and then floated on my back. The water felt good and I felt completely empty, my stomach and my brain, like I didn’t have any thoughts at all.”
She perfectly described how peacefully it feels to float on your back in the ocean.
And her brother waking her up to watch the sunrise was described beautifully:
“I’m going to go watch the sunrise,” he said.
“What?” I said.
“You should watch it with me,” he said. “It will make you feel better.”
I made myself wake up and we took our blankets and pillows off our beds and walked to the beach. We lay down on one blanket and put the other one over us. Petey lay down on top, with his butt on me and his head on Noah.
Soon there was the faintest glow at the end of the water. I propped myself up on my elbows. The sun came up slowly and then quickly. And Noah was right, it did make me feel a little bit better.
We watched until the sun took its place in the sky.”
I felt like I was right there looking at the sunrise.
DESERT HEARTS: 1/5 stars
Speaking of #whitepeopleproblems, this story was everything I despise in a character blended into one:
- mundane as hell
- blank characteristics
This is the infamous story of Brenda, who takes a job selling sex toys in San Francisco rather than embark on the law career she pursued only for the sake of her father.
“Marc told me that poppers were muscle relaxants and he also told me that Pam didn’t want me to work at Desert Hearts because I didn’t look gay.
“That’s discrimination,” I said.
“What are you going to do, call a lawyer?” said Marc.”
ughhhh… discrimination?? Also, she then goes to cut her hair to look “gayer”….
“My hair was longer than I had wanted—to the bottom of my ears with sort of side-swept bangs. But I looked like a new woman, and that was exactly what I had wanted.
“Do I look gay?” I said.
“You look gayer,” she said.”
Her ignorance is vast.
I’m not even going to try to analyse any of her other actions because I don’t hate myself that much.
PEARL AND THE SWISS GUY FALL IN LOVE: 2.5/5 stars
When our narrator meets the Swiss guy, she’s instantly enamored, partly because she hadn’t had sex in over a year and partly because he’s the only semi-decent guy she’s met this far.
“I hadn’t had sex in over a year, partly because I didn’t like anyone I met on the internet and partly because I adopted a pit bull who wouldn’t let men into my apartment”
Her pit bull, Pearl, freaks the Swiss guy out quite a bit. But they still end up at her apartment… and this is where he really starts to show his true colors. I mean, every time the Swiss guy opened up his mouth, I cringed.
“He kissed me. I put my hand on his arm, but he pulled his arm away.
“You touched Pearl and then you touched me.”
“Uh,” I said. “She’s not really that dirty.”
“I don’t know,” he said.
I washed my hands and he kissed me again.
“Okay,” he said. “Good-bye. Good-bye, Pearl.” He waved at her. She wagged her tail.”
If you don’t like dogs, then why the hell are you seeing someone who loves her dog more than life itself???? These two were so not compatible.
They made me feel so uncomfortable when they were together, especially towards the end. I somehow even ended up feeling sorry for the main character for having to put up with someone this… this creepy.
But it also taught me a lesson: never let your hormones take over and let some random guy stay at your place for more than a day just for the sex.
NEW GIRLS: 4.5/5 stars
This was my favorite story from this collection, which I greatly appreciated because I was starting to lose hope.
We follow Steph, a sixth grader who just moved to Germany for two years with her parents and brother. We get to see her be an outsider, insider and everything in-between. It really captured the process of growing up and trying to adjust to a new country.
“On the first day of school I went in with Brigitta, and everyone crowded around us and asked me questions in English. They wanted to know where I was from and why I moved to Germany, and they wanted to know which language I was going to take and which religion class I was going to be in. For religion there were only two choices, katholisch and evangelisch. I wondered why there were no other choices. Almost all the kids in my old school were Jewish, except for one kid who was Zoroastrian. I didn’t know what that meant and we didn’t study either of those things. I tried to tell the kids I wasn’t religious at all but they said I had to pick one. I picked evangelisch because I was sure I wasn’t katholisch. Half of the class cheered, and I didn’t know whether it was the katholisch half or the evangelisch half.”
The accuracy and humor in this was on point.
Also, the ending of this story kind of shattered my heart.
MY HUMANS: 2.5/5 stars
Told from the point of view of Princess, the dog that Jenna and Mike adopt. We get to see the rise and fall of their relationship from the dog’s eyes, which was a really fascinating thing to explore.
But it lost its spark when the entire focus on their relationship was mainly whether Jenna was cheating on Mike with Nick… which she was. Kind of disappointing. But on the other hand, I wasn’t entirely invested in their lives from the get-go, so I was left feeling quite numb towards the end.
JERKS: 3/5 stars
Jane runs into the boy she loved in high school, Silas, while shopping for art supplies.
“Deaf Girl!” and then, “Oh shit, I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine,” I said. “It’s Jane.” Deaf Girl was my behind-the-back nickname in high school, even though I could hear fine with my hearing aids.”
But the main focus isn’t on their relationship rather on Jane babysitting when her dad’s girlfriend asks her to care for Timmy, a hearing impaired kid. Since she was borrowing money and living at her dad’s, it was hard to turn down the job.
“Timmy was much deafer than I was, he was doing much better than I had, and he was a little asshole.”
Reading about her watching over him that very first day was distressing, to say the least. Kids can be cruel. It made me rethink a lot of my choices.
BARBARA THE SLUT: 4/5 stars
I was really looking forward to this story. I mean, if it’s in the title of the collection, it had to be good on some level, right?
Barbara, a young woman with an autistic brother, a Princeton acceptance letter, and a love of sex navigates her high school’s toxic, slut-shaming culture with open eyes.
While the previous story reminded me of how cruel kids can be, Barbara the Slut reminded me of just how hateful the whole process of being in high school can be. It made me shake and shiver.
But I was beyond proud of Barbara when she took matters into her own hands and fucked over the people that thought they could shame her.
“Hello?” said Roger.
“It’s Barbara,” I said. “If you ever call me a slut again, I’ll tell everyone at school you couldn’t keep it up when we fucked. Okay?”
He didn’t say anything but I could hear him breathing.
“And I heard you need a baseball scholarship because you’re so dumb, and you probably wouldn’t want me to call your recruiters and tell them that you do steroids and you’re suffering from testicular atrophy.”
“I’m sure you don’t know what that means, but it’s when your balls deflate.”
I hung up because it didn’t seem like Roger had anything to add. I didn’t think threatening Roger was going to make things better with Lacey or Melissa or anyone else, but I did think he was going to make the right choice.”
I love her for being herself.
So while that ending was satisfying, I can’t ignore that the majority of these stories fell flat for me, which is a damn shame. I was really looking forward to loving this collection, but I left with only two of the eight stories in my heart.
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