Houston, We Have a Problema
It’s never a good sign when you have to begin a book review with, “I really wanted to like…” Gwendolyn Zepeda’s completely uninspired first novel Houston, We Have a Problema is disturbingly typical—which is perhaps the worst thing you can be as a writer.
I really wanted to like her Latina protagonist Jessica Luna. I was hoping she’d be fiercely smart, funny, and unexpected. Sadly, she stopped being promising about four pages in. Zepeda allows her character to fall victim to the usual clichés featured in both movies and literature pertaining to the Latino culture. Watch as Jessica Luna worries about the size of her ample ass. Watch as she pines and obsesses over the attractive Latino painter who treats her like shit, but superbly provides the drama she “loves.” Listen as she makes earth-shattering observations, such as, “He was the kind of guy who obviously loved his mother, and therefore he always treated women like gold.” Aside from that, Jessica Luna simply wasn’t a likeable character.
Perhaps you’re not supposed to admit things like this, but I was reading Michelle Tea’s Rose of No Man’s Land at the same time as Houston, We Have a Problema. The two books are worlds apart, but they are both written in first person from the main character’s perspective. Tea’s main character is a young teenage girl while Zepeda’s is a twenty-six-year old woman. Despite this fact, Rose of No Man’s Land managed to be biting and intellectually stimulating; it had backbone and its character had nuance and layers. Zepeda’s character Jessica Luna lacked depth of any kind and was completely self-involved, uninteresting, and annoying.
You’re forced to sit through her every mundane thought concerning her ridiculous love life and her boring job at an insurance company. Her internal struggles are so trivial that her “problems” are laughable. This sad state is only compounded by the fact that she visits a psychic for guidance—should she date the gabacho or the Mexicano? Should she do web design or try for a promotion at the insurance company? By the end of each chapter you’re left thinking, who gives a fuck?
Houston, We Have a Problema was obviously intended to be Jessica Luna’s coming-of-age tale, but if falls very, very flat. It also only furthers certain negative stereotypes associated with Latinas; that all of us love drama, that we want men who are bad for us, that we’re meek, apologetic, and indecisive. Though the protagonist routinely says she’s purposely steering clear of marriage, she spends more than half the book obsessing over men. Jessica Luna lets her life pass her by, unwilling to make her own decisions and unable to pinpoint whatever it is that she wants. I’d like to say that the novel ends on a promising note, but it doesn’t. In the end she dumps the white guy and the Latino painter … and then entertains the thought of dating two new men. Big whoop.