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I should preface this by saying that I’m definitely not the target audience of Melissa Lozada-Oliva’s debut novel-in-verse Dreaming of You. First of all, I’m ambivalent at best about poetry and I can name maybe two? Selena songs, at a push. (The title? Didn’t know it was a reference until I started reading.) So, that pinch-of-salt disclaimer out of the way, this book is—per the author’s own admission—“freaky” and I can’t say I disagree.
Centred on a young, lonely Latinx poet who both is and is not Lozada-Oliva herself, the Dreaming of You concept hinges on a slapdash, somewhat spur-of-the-moment séance which revives Selena as a fuzzy-TV-screen, broken-record-reciting, flesh-and-not-quite-blood version of herself. Post-séance, things understandably go sideways as Selena takes off on a back-from-the-dead-athon.
As I touched on in what I’m loosely defining as the introduction to this review, Dreaming of You is a novel told in verse, a.k.a. a series of poems all of which interconnect to tell this lyrical Selena story. Although I enjoy Lozada-Oliva’s poems as standalone pieces, I’m not sure quite how effective I found them when strung together to create this Selena-centric plot. Told from multiple viewpoints and perspectives—and often addressing You-with-a-capital-Y, the reader—it was easy to get muddled in the moment. However, I wish real life had a chisme brigade as salty as the all italics, Greek chorus-esque gossips in Dreaming of You.
Candid and playful were two words used to describe this novel in the publisher’s blurb and I have to agree there, but I’d like to add carnal because there’s a fleshy corporality to Lozada-Oliva’s verse that made me both uneasy and intrigued in equal measure. Let me pull out some particular favourite lines to exemplify all of the above: “She wears a Freudian slip and loves the way her nipples feel underneath it”; “listen to all that applause crawling out of my own mouth”, and “I am a hangnail all over”. Tell me you didn’t shudder reading that last one.
The sickest burn (apologies, it’s apparently 2007 again) in the entire book though was when Lozada-Oliva outed me personally—there’s no other explanation for it—by describing a party as filled with “just a bunch of white people playing Catan”. I mean, yes, accurate.
By the time the fictional Yolanda (Selena’s best friend, president of her fan club, and eventual murderess) made her appearance and Selena had swanned off alone, though, it all became a bit too meta and abstract for me. However, I think an early note where I described Dreaming of You as an homage to family and wanking really holds up, weirdly. Because this book is smart, and it is funny. It’s just also a bit lost on me on many different levels, a Latinx concept album in literary form.
All that to say that, while I appreciate the (yes) freaky creativity of this novel-in-verse by Lozada-Oliva, as well as much of the writing, it clearly wasn’t for me in the end. But it might very well be absolutely for you.
Note: I requested and was provided with a review copy of Dreaming of You from Astra House Books.
About Melissa Lozada-Oliva
Melissa Lozada-Oliva (Massachusetts, 1992) is a Guatelombian-American poet, podcaster, and novelist based in Brooklyn. In 2015, her slam poem ‘Like Totally Whatever’ went viral; in 2017, she published her first full-length poetry collection peluda. Dreaming of You is her debut novel.
Other Books by Melissa Lozada-Oliva: peluda (Button Poetry, 2017), Rude Girl is a Lonely Girl! (Pizza Pi Press, 2016), Plastic Pájaros (2015)