In Good Hair, Bad Hair, Carmen L. Montañez puts a new spin on three tried-and-true preoccupations — independence, beauty and love — of the humorous chick-lit genre. Here, the likeable protagonist, Amarilis, is a 30-something living in the Caribbean, rather than in urban America. And her preoccupation with her hard-to-manage, curly hair goes beyond beauty: It signals her mixed racial background and subjects her to prejudice.
In the love quest, she tries to exercise more caution with men than other women of this genre typically display, even as she desires to find an intimate partner. Amarilis is also visited by dreams of women from the past who have faced far more difficult challenges, including slavery.
Montañez falls into the novice’s traps of “telling” rather than “showing,” switching the point of view too often and failing to deliver clarity. For instance, after spelling out Amarilis’ attitude about her mother, Montañez writes: “Her mother, however, still saw her as an adolescent that needed her hand of guidance, wanting to think for her, to make decisions for her.” All those “hers” are awkward and unclear and remove the reader from the main character’s perspective.
The author is at her best when she stays in Amarilis’ point of view. Delivering only Amarilis’ side of telephone conversations with her mother nicely captures mother-daughter love and tensions. Also entertaining are scenes in which Amarilis follows a New-Age guide to finding love by creating potions, amulets and the like. But her dream sequences require better execution, particularly in maintaining the historical voice. One speaker anachronistically says, “I didn’t have the guts” (to tell her husband that she was not keen on helping him colonize the New World).
Overall, Montañez’s book plays refreshingly with the genre’s conventions. Despite its flaws, it has moments of insight and fun, and would make a good conversation-starter for women’s reading groups to contrast with the more stereotypical books of this type.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.