“Along Heber Road”–what a start!

Villa, Ricardo. “Along Heber Road”, Publish America, 2007.

What a Start!

Amos Lassen

It is always fun to read first novels and Ricardo Villa is off to a fine start with “Along Heber Road”. It is a short book, more of a novella than a novel but even in its brevity says a lot and shows considerable talent.

We meet Miguel, a fifteen year old Mexican American, who lives in Southern California (in El Centro, the same place as the author) and is introduced to us in the book’s prologue. Villa gives a wonderful opening to Miguel and although we don’t understand at first why we need so much information about Miguel and his family, we realize later just how important the prologue is. We learn of his dysfunctional family; his father who drinks and physically abuses his wife and son,  his brothers, Mario, a paragon and Santiago, who is somewhat tenuous and we learn that Miguel hates his family life and goes outside of it looking for understanding and affection. Aracely, Miguel’s mother, loves her son and tries to give him what is father cannot.

As Miguel matures, he is aware of his attraction for men and this causes him a great deal of confusion. He has felt this attraction since he was young and does not know how to cope with it. When he finally has sex with a man, he decides that it is time to come out and becomes the object of scorn by his family and students at school. His only friend that understands him, Mauricio, is beat up by a gang after Miguel opens himself to him. When Miguel goes to his family for help and understanding he is rebuffed and beaten and when he goes to school, he is attacked but his brother comes to his aid and gives him surprising support. However, Miguel is deeply emotionally wounded because he feels that he is responsible for the injuries that his friend Mauricio has suffered and he believes that his life will be filled with hurt and pain. Yet, as Mauricio begins his recovery he assures his friend that all will be fine and Miguel also begins the system of recovery.

I have the feeling that some of what Villa has written is based upon his own life. His characters are so real and his characterizations are so beautiful that it is as though he actually knows them. The honesty of both the novella and the dialog hurts because they deal with a topic that most of us know too well.

We do not often get a look at gay life within the Hispanic community and even less often do we get to read about the pain that young Hispanics feel when they recognize their sexuality. In my opinion, what makes the book so interesting is the tenderness with which it is written. We feel for the characters as Villa presents them to us in a way that many more polished authors strive to do and he comes across exhibiting the nuances of language that is restrained and direct, even though it is subtle. I am so glad Villa sent me his book and I commend him as he enters the literary world. I also hope that there are more books in his head and that we will be hearing more from him.

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