Girl of the Year 2017: Gabriela

Published: 2017. Author: Teresa E. Harris.


Gabriela McBride has recently joined a spoken word poetry group, started by her slightly-older cousin Red. He's come to live with the McBrides in Philadelphia while his mother, a military doctor, is deployed. Gabriela was unsure at first about the group, given her stutter, but the prose actually helps her speak a little easier. She's still more expressive with dance, her first love. Conveniently, Gabriela's mom has been running Liberty, a performing arts center, for Gabriela's whole life. But now there's trouble: the building is in dire need of repair, and while it's technically owned by the city, the city will only pay for labor. The McBrides needs to come up with the materials, which is a tall order. Especially with the annual performance review on the horizon. And to make matters worse, Gabriela and Red think they may have caused the power overload that prompted the electrical panel inspection when by turning on some extra lights for a rehearsal

Gabriela suggests finding another place to rehearse while the repair situation is sorted out. She, Red, and her best friend Teagan go to talk to the school principal to see if they can use the gym. The gym is booked solid, but the principal suggests asking the students if they know of anywhere. A Shakespeare enthusiast named Isaiah offers to ask if they can use a room at a nearby Baptist church, where is dad is the pastor. While Gabriela is happy they have a stop-gap solution, she's upset that her stutter got in the way of talking to both the principal and the students. Both times Teagan stepped in and gave brief speeches. Gabriela knows Teagan was just trying to help and be supportive, but she's just as sure she could have gotten the words out if she'd had another few minutes to talk.

The church turns out to be a good place for rehearsals (especially at the price: free!) but it's not the same. Gabriela is still hoping to find a way to get Liberty fixed soon. There are fundraisers, community outreaches, and petition signings. At the signing  rally, Gabriela finally tells Teagan to not talk for her, but since she's been simmering with resentment for so long, she blows up at her (they make up soon after). Still, they collect over two hundred signatures! Well, before Gabriela accidentally spills paint on several pages...first she causes the power overload, now she ruins the petition.

But even with the paint stains, Gabriela and her Liberty friends are able to demonstrate the huge positive impact Liberty has on the community. The city agrees to set aside some money in its budget for the repairs (which now go beyond just electrical, as an inspection reveals) if Liberty can raise $20,000. In two weeks.

Everyone gets busy. They solicit donations, sell handmade things...but $20,000 is a lot. Gabriela says that if only more people could see how great Liberty is, they'd want to save it too. That's it: a public performance! Gabriela and her friends enlist the help of one of the adult apprentices at Liberty, but otherwise keep it secret from grown-ups, as they're sure the grown-ups will just take over or not let them do it. They say they want to go to a park on the day of a community picnic while Gabriela's mom and dad get a well-deserved date night. Just before the big day (two days before the budget meeting deadline), Red tells one more adult: someone with the local CBS news affiliate. The TV news reporter shows up in time to record the performance, which the kids put on without any advertisement, and Gabriela is able to push through her stuttering to give a short on-air speech about the importance of Liberty. She stumbles over some words, but she says what she wants to, on her own. And the reporter finishes the spot by directing viewers to the online donation website Gabriela's parents set up.

After their date, Gabriela and Red say vaguely that they weren't just at a picnic and hint not very subtly that Gabriela's parents should check the donations. Gabriela's parents are stunned, and wonder why they were kept in the dark. Gabriela and Red explain that it was their idea to have all the lights on for the rehearsal, so they think they caused the power failure. Since it was their fault, they wanted to fix it themselves. Gabriela's parents explain the extra power draw from the lights was more like the straw that broke the camel's back, and they wish they'd been told about the performance only so they could have helped. But when they all watch the news report, her parents are very impressed with the choreography. And even better, the donations reach--and then surpass by a few thousand dollars--their goal. Then annual end of summer performance review is back on, and it's a huge success.


Dedicated to Linda. Special thanks are also given to Lean Barbosa, MS CCC-SLP for help with the speech therapy parts; to Fatima Grace Groves, Senior Vice President for Program, National Women's Law Center; Sofia Snow, program director at Urban World NYC; and Urban Word NYC First Draft Open Mic for inspiring the "First draft!" tradition for Gabriela's poetry group.

Here's the good news/bad news about Gabriela McBride. Good news: American Girl finally listened to its customers and provided a girl of the year of color, providing more diversity in the line (even if she is another dancer) and dolls that are more easily relate-able to more girls (and the adults to collect them as well), not just with her ethnicity, but with her speech impediment.

Bad news: Gabriela is the first girl in a few years to not get a movie made, which is at best an uncomfortable coincidence. She's also not the only big release; the new Contemporary Characters line has two dolls out, Tenney and Z. Tenney has, at the time of this post, four books to Gabriela's three (Z has two), and in addition to the Tenney doll being released, a boy doll from her line is also out (Logan). So, Gabriela, the first black Girl of the Year and the first non-white Girl of the Year since Marisol, doesn't get a movie and has to share the spotlight. I'll be reviewing the Tenney and Z books as well, because I like complete things, but I'm giving Gabriela the first post (then Tenney then Z, because why not use alphabetical order).

The first scene of this book is set on June 23, 2017, a Sunday.

Since Shawshank Redemption is my favorite movie, you can imagine how I initially pictured an African-American character named Red. But someone in middle school probably doesn't look like Morgan Freeman...

Gabriela and Teagan make bracelets out of embroidery floss to sell for a fundraiser. Red suggests some be in the team colors of Philadelphia's professional sports teams, which is smart (Baseball: Phillies; NFL: Eagles).

I'm surprised that Isaiah's dad, a Baptist pastor, is called Mr. Jordan rather than Pastor Jordan. I'm used to Protestant ministers having a title like that, including my parents' Baptist minister neighbor. But different congregations can have different preferences.

Speaking of dads, Red's isn't mentioned.

Gabriela and Teagan have a good conversation over the phone, but given their ages and the setting (present day) I think it's more likely they would have been texting. Almost no pre-teens and teens I know prefer phone calls to texting.

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