Ironic and Critical; Searching
Irony and Criticism—Tough Love
What do we mean when we say that the tone of How the García Girls Lost Their Accents is ironic? We mean that what the characters say they want and what the author knows they want are two different things. It's like the author is watching her characters from a distance and gently mocking them. Then she pats them on the head and says (not without affection), "Oh, sweetie. You'll figure it out."
Here's an example: when Yoyo goes back to the Island at the beginning of the novel (but the chronological end of the novel, confusingly enough) Yoyo stops to enjoy a scenic view of the Island:
Here and there a braid of smoke rises up from a hillside—a campesino and his family living out their solitary life. This is what she has been missing all these years without really knowing that she has been missing it. Standing here in the quiet, she believes she has never felt at home in the States, never. (1.1.59)
Ah, the picturesque life of the campesinos. How quaint! How lovely! If only she could spend some more time contemplating their simple lifestyle. That would make her feel more complete. Right?
You can practically hear the author sighing. No, Yoyo. You just don't get it. First of all, the life of a campesino is way harder than you're imagining it to be. And more importantly, going camping is not going to solve all your problems. It's not that simple.
Searching—The Truth Will Set You Free!
But the author's attitude towards her characters isn't totally critical. It's also searching, patient, and fearlessly honest. Reading this, you feel like the author has some serious questions (Why does Yolanda feel there is something missing in her life?) and is willing to follow her characters all the way back to the beginning of their memories in order to find the answers. Especially Yoyo: she's the protagonist, after all.
Yoyo's character flaws are all laid out on the page with brutal honesty. She's not good with men—"tentative and terrified" is more like it (1.2.15). Sometimes she's naive, or insecure, or anxious.
The most brutally honest passage in the book is towards the end of the last chapter, where Yoyo talks about the really terrible thing she did to a kitten she she was five:
I picked the meowing kitten out of my drum. Its little human face winced with meows. I detested the accusing sound of meow. I wanted to dunk it into the sink and make its meowing stop. Instead, I lifted the screen and threw the meowing ball out the window. I heard it land with a thud, saw it moments later, wobbling out from under the shadow of the house, meowing and stumbling forward. (3.5.56)
Wow. That is really not cool. But the author doesn't mince any words. She's patiently followed Yoyo this far and by golly, she's going to get down to the bottom of things! This is the ugly, ugly truth about a five-year-old's capacity for cruelty, in all its grotesque detail.
And it has to be said so that Yolanda can stop fooling herself and face up to who she is. When Yolanda says: "I grew up, a curious woman, a woman of story ghosts and story devils, a woman prone to bad dreams and bad insomnia," she's giving an honest picture of who she is (3.5.60). There's no trace of irony in that sentence, and no need to dig any deeper. We like to think the author is beaming with pride.