Zakiya, the title character in Gloria L. Velásquez’s new teen novel “Zakiya’s Enduring Wounds,” is a confident African American high school sophomore with a sunny disposition.
She enjoys some of the poets she’s reading in English, she’s excited about her dance class, she’s the star player on the school volleyball team, she likes spending time with her girlfriends, she’s scoping out a cute boy.
And Zakiya has a special, loving relationship with her dad.
But her world collapses when her father suddenly dies. His death sets in motion a downward emotional and behavioral spiral in Zakiya.
She angrily rejects her mother. She turns against school life so much that she starts ditching classes. Zakiya meets Becky, a white girl who tells Zakiya she’s found solace in self-harm. Zakiya tries it, hoping it will relieves the terrible pain when she thinks of her dad.
At home, Zakiya hides her emotions behind the locked door of her bedroom. In one scene, she’s been arguing with her mother. Older brother Tyrone tries to talk with Zakiya to help her overcome her indifference.
This leads to an “if only” moment when Zakiya wishes her dad was still alive and could offer his sensible answer to her dilemma.
She orders Tyrone out of her bedroom. Alone and sad she buries her face in a pillow, and cries and cries, though she feels remorse for yelling at Tyrone.
Zakiya is thinking: “He was only trying to help. If only I could talk to Dad, if only he were here to hold me and tell me everything’s gonna be all right.”
Zakiya’s life begins to turn around when she – and her mother – begin seeing Dr. Martínez, a female psychologist, to get professional advice in dealing with their feelings and with family dynamics.
Mostly, the story is told through the character of Zakiya. But Dr. Martinez unexpectedly becomes a second narrator in the novel, assisting Zakiya and her mother in smoothing a path toward reconciliation and understanding of their changed relationship.
Dr. Martínez uses her own personal experience – she lost her husband to suicide – in self-recovery and in helping Zakiya and her mother come to terms with the loss of a loved one.
Zakiya’s attitude – and self-identity – brighten when she is hired as an assistant instructor in a weekend class at a private dance studio.
A secondary character in the novel is an African American Catholic priest, Father Brown, a friend of Zakiya’s family. The character is based on a real person, the late Father Kenneth Brown, who the author said was a friend and colleague at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.
Velásquez is a professor emeritus from the university where she had taught Latin American and Chicano literature.
“Zakiya’s Enduring Wounds” is the 11th volume in Velásquez’s Roosevelt High School Series. At the back of the book is a two-page glossary of Spanish words found in the text.
“The series is important to me because it empowers young people,” she said in a phone interview.
Velásquez has said she created the series “so that young adults of different ethnic backgrounds would find themselves visible instead of invisible.”
Previous novels in the series have addressed social issues such as AIDS, teen pregnancy, domestic violence and alcoholism.
Velásquez likes to end each novel with a happy ending because she wants youngsters to know they can resolve their problems and make their dreams come true.
A native of Colorado and a daughter of farm workers, Velásquez said she was involved in the Chicano civil rights movement in the 1960s and ’70s.
She sent the manuscript of her first book in the series to many publishers. They rejected it for being too ethnic, she said. “I am blessed that Arte Público Press picked it up and realized the importance of writing about people of color,” said Velásquez, who is also a poet.
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