In her first book, Not a Fairytale, Preciado recounts her life through poetry. Taken from childhood journals, Not a Fairytale recounts the harsh realities of overcoming family tragedy, homelessness, her undocumented status, and learning what life is like without an anchor to parent or country.
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Let’s begin this review of Not a Fairytale by asking if it’s not a fairytale, then what is it? Essentially, it’s a rare form of memoir, not told as a story with characters and dialogue, but as a poem based, as many memoirs are, on the journals of Roxana Preciado. Journalling is always advised for those who suffer from deeply buried pain caused by severe trauma. Often, such trauma and pain occur in childhood, and too often it’s the result of parental abuse…be it physical, sexual or mental. As Roxana tells us in the preface, that abuse began with her cold and distant mother, and several of the poems, beginning with the first one in Not a Fairytale, address this chasm between mother and daughter:
Do you love me?
You are silent
You do not say
Please say you do
Cause I’m in pain
And I love you.
Such simple words! Yet, how many children have thought the same and never received an answer, even as adults? So as Roxana pours out her heart and soul in the pages of Not a Fairytale, about the physical, mental and sexual abuse she endured, about her full-blown drug and alcohol addiction by the age of 15, and the total rejection by her mother when she told her she was a lesbian at age 16, readers will fully understand the pain, sarcasm, even vitriol that pepper many of her poems:
I am your pet in a fishbowl but I can’t swim
I beg and plead for you to free me
But you love to see me, you even feed me
You keep me alive just in case you might need me.
How useless and unwanted can a person feel? And how many of us go through our adult lives feeling like that pet in a fishbowl? Roxana’s poetry does what good writing should: it gives a universal application or message to an individual experience.
Many of the poems are sexual, but not gross or graphic. They are honest, real, raw and beautiful. And best of all is where this poetry takes the reader by the end of the collection: to Roxana’s realization that she alone can fix herself by choosing to live in her present and chart her future by putting the past where it belongs…in the past. She examines her journey toward this realization in the longer poem titled “Identity Crisis” where she analyses the many hats she wears and tries to find her true self. She rails against the many labels people and life have pinned on her in the poem “Fuck your Labels” when all she wants is to love herself. She once again takes her mother to task when she writes:
I love you dear mother
But I will never be the daughter that you need
You took too much away from me
I am almost empty
But thankfully, for Roxana Preciado and those readers who will identify with her battles and heartaches…and there are many of us…her cup is half full, not half empty. That’s why today she is recognized as both a poet and activist. Roxana Preciado has made a wonderful comeback from hell. Not a Fairytale assures readers that they can do the same.
-Reviewed By Viga Boland for Readers’ Favorite