Review of Beyond the Gardens by Sandra C. Lopez

Summary

At the age of 18, Esperanza Ignacio begins her college years at an upscale Los Angeles art school, where she studies to fulfill her long-term dream in Animation. But she soon learns the truth to the old folktale: “you can take the girl out of the barrio, but you can’t take the barrio out of the girl.” Even though she’s getting financial aid, Esperanza works a part-time job during her break from classes just to make ends meet. Her roommate, Anna, is what she calls a “chicana from Beverly Hills” because of the rich daddy and the new car she got for her quinceañera.

Things get a little confusing for Esperanza when an old friend comes looking for her, hoping to start a meaningful relationship. But is Carlos the right guy for her? She never even considered him to be anything more than a friend since high school. Then comes Jake, a gorgeous mechanic, who shares her passion for books and loves her for who she is. What’s a girl to do?

Strength and determination help pave the way for the future. And, as she approaches her graduation, she is faced with a difficult decision: should she leave Los Angeles and leave behind her family, her home, and everything she’s known? Ever since she was born in the California barrio of Hawaiian Gardens, she’s always had to look over the fence, wondering what she’s been missing. Now she’s taking a flying leap over to see what’s beyond the little barrio. What’s beyond her family, her friends, and her past? What’s beyond the little nothing town, where dreams don’t exist? What’s beyond The Gardens? Is it life, love, a future? The story of Esperanza is finally concluded in this wildly entertaining and heart-warming sequel.

Characters

I struggled to find something redeeming about the characters. Unfortunately, they all seemed to speak the same and were one-dimensional most of the time. Every once in a while this author’s potential would shine through and there would be a strong scene or moment. These great moments were bogged down heavily but the tedious dialog that frequently didn’t explain who was talking.

Esperanza was flat out annoying in her behavior. Instead of making her growth meaningful and beautiful it was simply drawn out and contrived. I wanted desperately to like Esperanza but at every turn her basic demeanor felt fake. She was over the top most of the time and tried too hard to be funny. Sometimes it was great – sometimes it was so misplaced that it ruined a perfectly good scene. Not to mention the monologues didn’t happen when they should and she showed a weak will on many occasions.

Jake on the other hand was the only solid character that I both liked and felt the most real (if not a little too perfect). The support characters didn’t help either. Carlos and Carla were utterly ridiculous. Anna was also one of the better characters, but the way that Esperanza related to her and seemed to make her into one big joke ruined her as a secondary character. All of the characters were really hard to invest in because they just didn’t feel real.

Plot

This may be labeled as a romance but the romance piece is about 1/4 of the book. This is more about Esperanza growing into herself which lends itself to a different genre. I could be more of a coming of age book. I like coming of age books typically, particularly if they actually go somewhere. I feel like half of this book could have been cut out and it would have been a much more enjoyable read.

Also, every time I turned around, Esperanza would conveniently have a memory (which had never been introduced before) to tie her ’emotionally’ to a specific situation. I don’t know how many times I would say ‘are you serious?’ because out of nowhere she would have something to relate – some made sense but a lot were far reaching. I am sad to say the romance also fell flat most of the time.

Time and time again the story didn’t feel real. Everything felt too convenient which give it the air of being artificial. I felt like a ping pong ball being bounced around Esperanza’s life without any sense of why some things were drawn out and detailed while others were barely touched on. You would think a major life change near the end of the book would have more detail but it didn’t.

Overall

The sense of time was wonky. Off handed comments made everything seem like it was passing slowly. A semester or two was drawn out into chapters. Then suddenly she is graduating but the last thing celebrated was a 1 year anniversary (which doesn’t work out time wise unless she graduated in 2 years and last time I checked BFA degrees take 4-5 years). Not to mention the basic transition between one thought or time to another. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason as to why some got a break or a chapter change while others just rolled together. Not to mention the constant grammatical errors of tenses – I get this struggle is real but there were more than an acceptable few, they were everywhere.

I always like to give positive feedback to authors as well as a negative but I am struggling. This has real potential plot wise. It has all the strengths that would be seen in a real life situation. However, the execution of this plot is where the book falls flat. Jake was the best character and the shining star in this novel. Without him I don’t think I would have finished this book.

Esperanza is what is wrong with this book. She should have been strong and have the courage that the author seemed to want her to have. Yet time and time again she didn’t live up to expectations. For someone who was supposed to be smart she was an idiot a lot. I understand that a character is supposed to make mistakes, that is not what I am saying. I am highlighting the fact that she is consistently negative and goes against everything everyone else in the book says about her. It made me wonder if the author had a clear picture in her head of who Esperanza was supposed to be and that was part of the reason she didn’t feel at all real to me.

Rating

2 stars

In the end I didn’t like it. I did finish it so I can’t give it a one star, it was good enough that I actually read it all. The plot had a solid premise at least. However, this was housed in the wrong genre to start. I think if I knew this was more of a coming of age story to start with, I may have liked it more. Making it out to seem like a romance, set up certain exceptions that weren’t met (mostly the emotional piece lacking on Esperanza’s part).

The characters were one-dimensional most of the time and all felt like they spoke the same with the same sort of personalities. Some of them had more depth but not enough to draw out emotion. The flow of time was a major issue with this book as well. It took me weeks to read this book, it just kept going. The start of the book, a few parts in the middle, and the end were all pretty good but overall it was too long. I encourage this author to find a content editor that is brutally honest to take this novel and make it what it could be.

Where did I get it?

The author sent me a copy in exchange of an honest review.

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