One of my most memorable tasks as an intern with the Feminist Press last summer was writing up the advance information sheets for Anna Castillo’s novel Give It To Me, then a manuscript in the early stages of copy-editing. The AI sheets would be used to pitch the book to sales representatives and bookstores. It was a tutorial in marketing at the most basic level: who did we think should read this book and why? I sat down with two of the other interns, my friends Meredith and Victoria, and we laughed awkwardly at the task of neatly summarizing Castillo’s stunning, uncategorizable novel.
Give It To Me is a book that defies a tidy description—its plotlines are outrageous while remaining deeply human and real, its emotional struggles are both absurdly funny and wounding. I vividly remember reading the manuscript on printed double-spaced, double sided pages on my commute home from Manhattan and finding myself stunned as if kidnapped, no longer an intern sweltering on a packed peak train. Instead I followed pansexual Palma Piedras from Albuquerque to Chicago to Los Angeles as she discovered her family’s secrets and figured out who she was in the wake of divorce, abuse and heartbreak. The journey was a ruthlessly entertaining pleasure, and receiving the final, published copy of the book in the mail a few weeks ago made me giddy and nostalgic.
The paratext of the novel—its pop art cover of a woman in a bikini and the spunky summary on the back—makes Give It To Me seem like chick lit, a dismissively named genre implying fluff and romance. Having already read the book, I know the cover art is tonally perfect, as Palma consistently finds herself on the less glamorous side of star-studded LA culture, dating an arrogant, social-climbing chef to the stars and befriending a stylist who is all posturing and debt behind his designer sunglasses. Give It To Me is what I wish mainstream chick lit were: smart and daring, sexy and embarrassing. It remains one of my favorite novels, and rereading it a year later was like getting drinks with an old friend to cringe and gush over previous misadventures. When brainstorming taglines for the novel with Victoria and Meredith, I remember suggesting a ‘What would Palma do?’ tumblr meme campaign. The answer: ‘What wouldn’t Palma do?’
In the end we settled on some riff about Palma ‘looking for love in all the wrong places,’ which did little to capture the cutting situational and observational humor of the book but did get at its heroine’s unruly adventures. In just over 250 pages, Palma Piedras becomes deeply infatuated with her younger cousin recently released from prison, has several poorly chosen flings, thinks she meets the Dalai Lama, crashes a quinceañera with her married female lover, is an extra in a Tommy Lee Jones movie, etc. etc. What I missed at the time but can appreciate a year later is that this is a novel about a Latina in her early forties looking for herself—rather than love—in the wake of a confused family history, a story reveling in its racial and sexual diversity. Books like Give It To Me are desperately needed, and Castillo’s biting work belongs in Chicana/Chicano and Gender and Sexuality studies courses. Beyond its intersectional awesomeness, Give It To Me is incredibly readable and addictive, its fast pace a perfect match for those of us looking for a more daring beach read this summer. This is a book that will latch onto your brain and not let you go for months. I certainly haven’t stopped thinking about it since last July, a reading experience I cannot remember ever having had before.
Pick up a copy from the Feminist Press website here.