Jessica Abel's first full-length graphic novel pulls readers into the cultural experiment of Carla Olivares, a young Latina woman who heads south of the border to find her Mexican roots. Carla's immersion is fraught with confusion; her newfound Mexico City friends fund their revolutionary activities with the proceeds of petty crime. Before long, Carla herself is drawn into their violent vortex and must connect the dots of her identity in order to see her way clear.
… the real joy here is that you should see it coming given how skillfully Abel layers in the inevitability of the twist. Suddenly the book jolts from quotidian travelogue into thrilling adventure territory. But Carla is no superhero. She is, frankly, ceaselessly selfish, an annoying idealist and a little bit of a deadbeat. But it makes her resourcefulness and smarts as she negotiates her way out of peril by book's end all the more thrilling.
The New York Times
Carla Olivares, a young Mexican-American woman, goes to Mexico City to try to get in touch with her Mexican side. She's got her own, distorted ideas about what that means, and her annoyance with an old boyfriend who's leading his idea of the romantic expatriate life (by hanging out exclusively with other expats) makes her even more nervous about coming off like an outsider. She starts hanging out with a bunch of local lowlifes and blowhards who feed her guilt about being a privileged "conquistadora." They talk big (about stardom and revolution), but barely scrape by on petty crime-which eventually becomes not so petty, and sucks Carla into a vortex of fear and violence. Abel's published several books of her shorter comics stories, but for her first long-form graphic novel she's developed a new, impressively assured style, built around bold, rough brushstrokes. She's got a telegraphic command of body language-her characters' faces are simplified to the point where their eyes are usually just dots-and the backgrounds nicely evoke the architecture and heat of Mexico City. What really makes the story compelling, though, is Abel's sensitivity to character and dialogue-Carla is the narrator, but she's hardly a heroine, and the way crucial meanings are lost in translation ratchets up the dramatic tension. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Gr 10 Up-Twenty-something American slacker Carla moves to Mexico, land of her long-lost father. She crashes at the apartment of her ex-boyfriend, a wealthy, WASPy American who socializes mostly with people like himself. Carla soon meets some locals, wannabe revolutionary Memo and wannabe DJ Oscar. After moving in with Oscar, she becomes less engaged in society, rarely interacting outside of this limited group. As she becomes even less involved, her na vet allows some horrible events to occur. While readers see the writing on the wall long before Carla catches on, she is still a sympathetic heroine. This is Abel's first full-length graphic novel after her Artbabe comic and collections (Fantagraphics), and it's both simple and ambitious. The black-and-white artwork is sketchy, but evocative. The story is intricately plotted and suspenseful. The decision to write the first chapter's dialogue in Spanish, translated at the bottom of the panels, is interesting. Later, when Spanish is spoken predominantly, all of the dialogue is in English, putting words that were actually spoken in English in brackets. This not only reflects Carla's move into Spanish, but also allows readers to feel more strongly her lack of knowledge upon arriving in Mexico. The lengthy glossary defines Spanish words, phrases, vulgarities, and characters and places referenced in the text. Abel has successfully portrayed characters both on the fringes of society, and those who wish that they were.-Jamie Watson, Harford County Public Library, MD Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Nice Chicago girl goes to Mexico City and ends up with far more than she can handle. Abel has been one of the leaders of the indie comics scene for several years, from her occasional "Artbabe" comics to her graphics journalism. She's best known-and rightly so-for her five-part "La Perdida" series from Fantagraphics, reproduced here in a single volume. The book itself is an assured piece of work, somewhat autobiographical though never cloyingly so, that owes a large debt to the work of Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez (Love and Rockets, not reviewed). Abel's heroine Carla is a half-Mexican young woman from Chicago who moves to Mexico City to hang with her occasional boyfriend Harry-an arrogant trustafarian with a Burroughs and Kerouac fetish-and figure out what to do with her life. She doesn't have much direction, and grates at the closed-off manner of Harry's Caucasian expat friends, whom she derides as hardly knowing any natives of the country they live in (though most of them speak better Spanish than she). The naive Carla falls in with a pair of obnoxious locals she angrily defends to her steadily shrinking circle of acquaintances. Both these guys-her boyfriend Oscar, a clueless pot dealer who dreams of being a deejay, and Memo, an acerbic pseudo-Marxist who spouts anti-American rhetoric when not trying to seduce blonde tourists-are trouble, and the reader knows what's coming well before Carla does. The author gets by without worrying too much about plot, content with tracking Carla's increasing self-righteousness and steady deterioration as all the insecurities she wanted to leave behind come bubbling back up in this country that remains stubbornly foreign. When the story takes a stunningturn near the end, it seems less an effort to find a dramatic conclusion than the inevitable result of Carla's northern naivete. An emotional, beautifully crafted odyssey that not only utilizes but transcends both navel-gazing self-discovery and backpackers-in-peril cliches.
From the Publisher
“Jessica Abel’s La Perdida is rich, engrossing, and memorable—a true graphic novel.”
—Scott McCloud, author of Understanding Comics
“Put down your dog-eared Love and Rockets and read this. Fans of Los Bros will recognize a kindred spirit, but Abel is every inch her own artist. Her tale of Carla’s catastrophic folly is fierce and unforgettable.”
—Susan Choi, author of American Woman and The Foreign Student
“Jessica Abel is brilliant. She’s created amazing work for years, and La Perdida is her classic. It’s funny, politically astute, and heartbreaking. It’s graphic novel poetry.”
—Sherman Alexie, author of The Toughest Indian in the World