Rarely, if ever, is the narrator of a novel so personal that it’s like they’ve invited you for tea. Juliana Delgado Lopera’s Francisca does that and more, balancing colloquialisms and two languages with stage-speaking authority. Readers learn a lot and a little of Francisca—she is at least in her mid-20s while telling her story, but we mostly stay locked in on one special summer.
Fiebre Tropical reminds readers of monotony that can ensue during long breaks in high school. Living in Miami with little freedom and resources to explore her surroundings, Francisca is limited to watching her neighbor play computer games, watching telenovelas with her abuela, and interacting with the faith-based community her mother almost forcefully wants her to join.
Christian communities are ubiquitous and highly accessible for youths. This novel explores what happens to identity when one joins these spaces. Will Francesca the all-black wearing “heathen” be transformed by God and his followers, or will followers of Christ find themselves shadowed in Francisca’s queer darkness?
Lopera alternates languages almost seamlessly, creating an authentic intimacy that makes the novel’s tone fresh and inviting as opposed to alienating. The distinct voice keeps the novel consistent; as the reader traverses through the plot, they learn more about Francisca’s mother’s and grandmother’s histories, explored in a way that’s not far off from a Junot Diaz or Toni Morrison book.
The novel explores the relationship between mother and daughter, generational trauma, immigrant experience, coming of age as queer, and queerness repression. The book is also about heartbreak. With the pandemic quarantine reminding us of what it means to be powerless and stuck at home, Fiebre Tropical is a reminder of the vulnerable yet necessary act of connection, of it’s rewards and consequences.
Fiebre Tropical by Juli Delgado Lopera. Amethyst Editions, March 2020.
Reviewer bio: Eric P. Mueller is an essayist based in Alameda, CA. His work has appeared in Foglifter, Thought Erotic, and elsewhere. He reads for Longleaf Review. Follow him and his two dogs @realericmueller on Twitter or Instagram.
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