La Perdida (Pantheon)

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laperdida-header.jpgA young American woman heads to Mexico to find her roots, only to collide with the language barrier and a myriad of missteps in this new edition of Jessica Abel's first long form work.



275 pages black and white; $14.95 paperback, $22.95 hardcover

(W / A: Jessica Abel)


Remember the last time a friend called you and told you about the really big mistake they made? And the subsequent ones? And some more after that? The whole thing is painful to listen to and the best idea might be to just hang up and not deal with it anymore, but you keep listening and you want to know just how fucked up things got. You're biting your tongue and you've been there too—sort of—but not that bad. Reading La Perdida (The Lost One) is kind of like that. No, it's almost exactly like that, but with better illustrations.

The cover to La Perdida by Jessica Abel. Click for a larger image.The central character and narrator of La Perdida is Carla, an American with an estranged Mexican father. Sick of her life in the US, she heads to Mexico City to find her roots.  Carla calls on Harry, her wealthy and white ex, for a place to stay. Harry is fully fluent in Spanish, yet tends to hang out solely with other American ex-pats. In contrast, Carla's Spanish is fairly bad and she desperately seeks the acceptance of the locals she acquaints herself with.

Carla's language blunders are shown through the interesting decision to include (through the first part of the book) Spanish language bubbles with English captions. Some of her mess-ups are rather funny and lend humor to an often-somber storyline. In later parts of the book, the Spanish dialogue is written in English for all but choice words. Brackets are used to signify dialogue actually spoken in English.

Early on, Carla befriends the self-proclaimed communist revolutionary Memo, who sells politically themed t-shirts at a market, and the not-so-bright Oliver, a smalltime pot dealer who can't afford to buy the turntables he incessantly speaks of bringing him fame as a world-renowned DJ. Memo is simultaneously complimentary to Carla while belittling her ideals and background and constantly denouncing her idol, Frida Kahlo. Oliver, while occasionally sweet in his own way, is basically a freeloader and eventually becomes Carla's live-in boyfriend.

A visit from Carla's skateboarding and website-owning little brother, Rod, shows that Mexico City is not at all solely comprised of seedy petty criminals. His friends are genuine, kind, and can afford to buy Carla a beer when they go to a cantina. This sharp contrast blatantly shows Carla's poor judgment in choosing friends.

Carla's missteps build up into her possibly being a little bit responsible for a really big crime—I don't want to give away the plot, so I will not divulge more on the matter. This plot twist leads to the reflective conclusion of the graphic novel.

The artwork in La Perdida is black and white. Shading (although infrequently used) very effectively lends to the tone of the story. The illustrations are sketchy, but often detailed. The cover is beautifully in full color, a day scene on the outside and twilight on the inside.

La Perdida is fairly dense and pretty heavy on dialogue. It took longer for me to get through than most graphic novels, but it was worth the time. Also worth browsing, the book comes with a glossary of Spanish words used throughout the book. It contains interesting and sometimes lengthy definitions.

Take your time and get to know Carla. She'll become the friend you really want to talk some sense into, but you'll wait until she's done with her story. | Jaffa Aharonov


Read excerpts and more at Jessica Abel's personal La Perdida website at!

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