By Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo
SEVENTEEN AND HIGH, Nikki Darling swaggers down the middle of Garvey Boulevard, a busy thoroughfare in the San Gabriel Valley, as cars swerve around her: “‘Three Days’ by Jane’s Addiction is playing on my Walkman and I feel like I’m in a movie, like I’m an assassin.” She stands in the street with a cigarette hanging from her lips, with “someplace to be or maybe nowhere to go.” She taunts the cars as they pass: “Fly around me, motherfuckers! Fly around me like I’m not even here!”
In an opening scene brazen with feminine adolescent rage and emotion, Nikki Darling the author dares readers of her debut novel, FadeInto You, to come in close. By writing in the New Narrative style popularized by Eileen Myles (Chelsea Girls) and Michelle Tea (Rose of No Man’s Land), Darling keeps the veil between fiction and nonfiction purposefully thin, and having her protagonist carry her name builds intimacy. In an interview with the popular feminist podcast Call Your Girlfriend, Darling said she named her character Nikki because “being in the interiority of a teenage girl is not something readers are always familiar with.” InFade Into You, Darling gives us more than an intimate view of a teenage girl; she gives us an intimate view of a young, mixed-race Chicana living in the suburbs of Los Angeles, the kind of portrait that is nearly nonexistent in L.A. letters.
Luis J. Rodriguez’s Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A., an award-winning 1993 memoir that shares the tale of a young man struggling to survive gang life and addiction in the 1980s San Gabriel Valley, is the most notable and celebrated literary depiction of Chicanx teen life in Los Angeles. But not every Chicanx can identify with living “la vida loca.” Darling’s protagonist struggles to find her identity in a city that says to be Mexican can only be one thing, an issue many Mexican-American/Chicanx Angelenos understand. As Nikki thinks,
It would be my luck not just to be half-Mexican, but the wrong kind of Mexican. I am not from East Los. My people are borderlands, the frontera. I am a pale ghost of a bloody past. A daughter of the viceroyalty. A lady of Spain. But I’m not that either. I’m me. I’m SGV. I watch from the schoolyard as the sad boys mark up the EMF, throw down the emero. I live in the cool shadows of libraries.
I grew up in the SGV in the ’90s, and when I was 17 I liked to wear loose-fitting, faded blue jeans with a white T-shirt and blue Chucks. It’s how I felt most beautiful. One afternoon as I was sitting on the front stoop of my grandparents’ Boyle Heights home, my party-crew cousin from La Puente, in stiff Dickies and dark hoodie, looked down his chin at me and asked, “Eh, you like a rocker? You a skater? What are you?” Read Rest of Review Here