- Chica Lit: Popular Latina Fiction and Americanization in the Twenty-First Century by Tace Hedrick
Chica lit, the name commonly used for Latina chick lit, is "written by US-born Latin and Mexican American authors" and "featur[es] young, upwardly mobile Latina protagonists" (xii). In her preface, Tace Hedrick frames her study of this genre with a question:
Most work in [the field of Latino studies], including mine, tends to emphasize resistance to the struggles, poverty, and inequalities that the majority of Latinos and Chicanas still face. Why, then, teach fiction that is clearly oriented toward a relatively small group of middle-class Latinas/os, who advocate the assimilation of Latinas and Chicanas into the gendered and racialized ideals of a neoliberal Americanization, and that seems to advocate, ultimately, the erasure of most subversive critical differences?(xiv)
This blunt assessment, that chica lit reproduces tired tropes that teachers and scholars work to dismantle, is not incorrect. Yet, if we read Hedrick's book as an answer to her question, we see that the value comes from exploring why and how this genre does what it [End Page 585] does. As the first full-length monograph on chica lit, Hedrick's book not only explicates the genre's purpose and conventions but also offers a nuanced exploration of these novels as sites where the tradition of women's popular advice writing, the conventions of the romance and white chick lit genres, the field of Latina/o literature, the rise of neoliberalism, and the strategies of commercial marketing converge. Chica lit, then, is worth studying not simply to "understand the function of chica lit in a US cultural imaginary" (xiv) but also to understand how these forces give shape to these novels.
Though this book ably introduces us to chica lit, it does so by arguing that the genre has one central purpose: to instruct upwardly mobile Latinas on how to correctly perform their Latinaness to become successful, middle-class Americans "within the structures of an American late modern capitalism" (24). Hedrick argues that these books demonstrate "the proper use of ethnicity in middle-class women's lives": they show how US Latinas can "Americanize" their Latina identities to achieve cultural citizenship while simultaneously fashioning their Latina heritage into a useful, "consumable" resource (xii). To make this argument the book introduces the elements that shape the genre in the first chapter, then explores these aspects more thoroughly in the four chapters that follow.
The introduction consists of several subsections that offer an overview of the ideological forces that shape chica lit. While some of these sections summarize concepts discussed in more detail later in the text, I found the two longest subsections, which explain the effects of neoliberalism and the novel's link to the tradition of women's instructional writing, to provide a useful foundation for later sections. Hedrick sees the adoption of economic neoliberalism as responsible for the ensuing shift from understanding poverty as something caused by structural problems to a situation caused but also managed by the individual. For Latina/o communities, then, the solution to poverty became assimilation and upward mobility, a definition of success taken up by chica lit. The second section situates chica lit within the much longer tradition of women's advice literature in order explain how advice writing has functioned in the past as well as how the corrective impulse of women's instructional writing affects the strategies chica lit novels use to reach their readers.
The next chapter, "Genre and the Romance Industry," constructs a literary genealogy for chica lit, positioning it as an offspring of the romance novel and a subgenre of white chick lit in order to explain and contextualize its conventions. Hedrick connects these genres to her earlier reading of neoliberalism when she examines the way that chica lit protagonists handle the barriers to happiness that arise over the course of the novels. She explains that problems "only exist to [End Page 586] be overcome" by the protagonist (31), imbuing the genre with...