I love a good novel-in-verse. Here’s one. In Dreaming of You, Guatemalan-Colmbian American writer Melissa Lozada-Oliva tells the story of a young poet (also named Melissa) who decides to bring Latina pop idol Selena Quintanilla-Perez back to life, over 20 years after her murder. The title of the book, incidentally, is taken from an album Selena recorded that came out in 1995, shortly after her death.
Melissa knows the singer from childhood memories, from recordings and videos. As if to disarm any potential criticism beforehand, the poet explains “Just to Make Things Clear, I Am Not a Haunted Person” (25). She’s not doing this because Selena’s absence / presence haunts her, – she is doing this in an attempt to revive a mirror. Only after the deed is done does she realize the problem with turning a mirror into a person: that mirror can now just walk away, have a mind of her own, do unexpected things. Even if the newly-alive Selena can only speak in snippets of what she has been recorded as saying, she is very much capable of doing her own thing. She is not what Melissa expected.
Melissa, in the meantime, begins to fade out of existence – because she has lost her mirror? Because she has put back into existence someone who should be dead? – and the return of Selena motivates Yolanda Saldivar, her murderer, to break out of prison and find Melissa. And then there are the other dead idols, all suddenly back for “Dead Celebrity Prom” (110) – Michael Jackson, Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse, Prince. They are there, but at the same time, like Serena, they’re not quite real:
The King is back but no one wants to talk / about how watching the King is like // watching a video of an / impersonator of the King / in a basement / with a bad connection. (111)
The novelty wears off within about an hour, and at the end of the prom, the dead are left without an audience, nobody to witness
How they opened their mouths. / How something rang out of them, / like a collective roar / or a feral call to the beyond, / or the sound of many hands / slapping themselves together / until they are raw. (112)
Losing her physical form, Melissa makes a deal with a threatening female presence, she trades her “You”, her boyfriend, just to be herself again. This doesn’t last: Yolanda steals her skin, leaves her raw and incredibly vulnerable. Skin, membranes, the hymen – there is a recurring motif here.
Melissa finally realizes that her undertaking was doomed from the start: Selena’s death was always part of what made Selena who she was, and the person Melissa resurrected can never be the Selena she remembers. Selena must die, again. After Yolanda has already donned Melissa’s skin, it is now Melissa’s turn to become Yolanda.
This book is in turns very funny, weird, and in a strange way beautiful. I think it works well, over all, even if the reader is not familiar with Selena – this book is not about fandom gone wrong. Melissa makes up her own kind of magic or alchemy to bring back something that never existed outside of Selena’s fans’ heads, and because she does not understand this, she must fail. Is a mirror image ever alive? Is it ever real?
In a way, Melissa is a twenty-first century Latina Frankenstein, with using blood and electricity and soil, bright lipstick, recordings played backwards, a USB stick with images of Selena. But the blood is Melissa’s own, her period blood, and the recordings are of Melissa’s voice. As if some part of her already knows this is not about Selena, but about herself.
I thoroughly enjoyed this strange little novel-in-verse. Recommended! I’ll leave you with a link to one of Selena’s songs: https://youtu.be/RKGbjJarMeA Enjoy!