After a certain number of years spent authoring, writing about experiences that are not your own simply comes with the territory. In The Go-Between, Veronica Chambers offers a peek into the story of rich Mexican immigrants and how they find out that, moneyed or not, they cannot shed the stain of their origins. The perennially devalued Afro-Latina is particularly well-placed to tell that type of story.

With nearly 20 titles under her belt, Veronica Chambers is the prolific author of the critically-acclaimed memoir Mama’s Girl. Other noteworthy non-fiction publications include her biographies of Queen Bey and a collection of essays about the former first lady titled The Meaning of Michelle. Though born in Panama and raised in Brooklyn, Chambers’s work does not always centre Afro-Latinx identity. Just as she’s a versatile author who has repeatedly tried her hand at fiction, Chambers writes #ownvoices as often as she does not. After a certain number of years spent authoring, writing about experiences that are not your own simply comes with the territory.

The Go-Between is a prime example. Set in Mexico City and LA, the novel tells the story of cool-girl Camilla del Valle and her famous parents. Her mother, Carolina, is a picture-perfect telenovela actress of superstar proportions and if that wasn’t enough, her father voiced the Spanish version of Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story. From a servant-attended mansion and happy family to occupy it, to being the envy of every girl in Mexico City, Cammi has everything she could ever want, except an identity outside her parent’s fame and talent of her own to match her brother Sergio’s Oxbridge brains. 

When her mother gets an LA gig she can’t turn down and the family emigrate, Cami’s family quickly find out about devaluation. Their dreams are shattered: her mother’s so-called glamorous role turns out to be little more than the stereotypical Mexican maid, her father can’t find any work, and Cammi becomes her fancy prep school’s pitiful Mexican transfer student. After playing along for her own amusement and later realising the offensiveness of her actions, Cami comes away a reformed young adult armed with a cast of diverse friends and a fresh perspective on her privilege.

“After a certain number of years spent authoring, writing about experiences that are not your own simply comes with the territory.”

This is one of those books that does exactly what it says on the package. In fact, the novel religiously follows in the blurb’s footsteps as the family’s move to America happens over the span of a few throwaway sentences. This makes for a plotline that, perhaps in keeping with the soul-splitting effects of immigration, feels somewhat discontinuous. It does not help that the early chapters read like a Mexican version of Gossip Girl or a tentative zoo-like peek into the high-flying lives of the elite: exciting, but never narratologically satisfying. In that same fashion, Chambers seems to organise her story around individual scenes and phantom strings of plot that are momentarily considered and then, just as quickly, cast aside.

That said, Chambers offers a peek into the story of rich Mexican immigrants and how they find out that, moneyed or not, they cannot shed the stain of their origins. The perennially devalued Afro-Latina is particularly well-placed to tell that type of story. What The Go-Between achieves is no mean feat: a complex and nuanced meditation on the intersections between class, race, and nationality that is also, quite simply, a fun read. Cammi, ever-overshadowed by her superstar mother, tries her hand at acting and in the words of her actually poor Chicana frenemy Millie, “makes being poor and vulnerable into her own little psychodrama.” 

Cami’s poorface, a clever spin on the premise of blackface in a novel where Chambers felt “class and race were equally difficult to navigate,” reflects both her desire to be someone outside of her family’s fame and America’s stereotypes of immigrants. Offended by her pretence of allyship and sisterhood, Willow—a rich, half-Black school friend who is the audience to Cami’s charade—adds rich dimensions to this tale of intersectionality. Chambers also sprinkles in a Bollywood aficionado teacher hailing from New Delhi who, predictably and adorably, falls madly in love with Carolina’s telenovelas. In short, this is the global and multi-coloured literary cast of your dreams.

“A complex and nuanced meditation on the intersections between class, race, and nationality that is also, quite simply, a fun read.”

In spite of her entirely unrelatable class privilege, the fact that we never really come to connect with Cami speaks to the difficulties of convincingly embodying other voices. But, more importantly, readers might come away feeling schooled. The laboured didacticism around intersectionality makes for an annoying, near-textbook feel. And a plausibly wrong lesson at that: the book often suggests that identities can be neatly distilled into constituent parts. That said, The Go-Between busts American stereotypes about a homogenous Mexican experience and offers a little-explored take on a story every first-generation American knows all too well. 

By Jane Link

JANE LINK is a master’s student and an editor for Split Lip MagazineThe Publishing Post, and her own beloved bigblackbooks. When not trying to land her first job in publishing, Jane loves to read historical fiction, self-help, and everything by Black voices. She dreams of one day setting up an independent dedicated to publishing those voices. You can find her on Twitter.

VERONICA CHAMBERS is a prolific author, best known for her critically acclaimed memoir, Mama’s Girl. Born in Panama and raised in Brooklyn, her work often reflects her Afro-Latina heritage. She coauthored has collaborated on four New York Times bestsellers. She has been a senior editor at the New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, and Glamour. She speaks, reads, and writes Spanish, but she is truly fluent in Spanglish. You can find her on Twitter and on her website.

The Go-Between: An upper class immigration story about race and placeThe Go-Between by Veronica Chambers
Published by Delacorte on 9 May 2017
Genres: #ownvoices, Coming-of-age, YA, Afro-Latinx
Pages: 208
Format: Paperback
Buy on Bookshop.org
Goodreads
three-stars

She is the envy of every teenage girl in Mexico City. Her mother is a glamorous telenovela actress. Her father is the go-to voice-over talent for blockbuster films. Hers is a world of private planes, chauffeurs, paparazzi and gossip columnists. Meet Camilla del Valle, Cammi to those who know her best. When Cammi's mom gets cast in an American television show and the family moves to LA, things change, and quickly. Her mom's first role is playing a not-so-glamorous maid in a sitcom. Her dad tries to find work but dreams about returning to Mexico. And at the posh, private Polestar Academy, Cammi's new friends assume she s a scholarship kid, the daughter of a domestic. At first, Cammi thinks playing along with the stereotypes will be her way of teaching her new friends a lesson. But the more she lies, the more she wonders: is she only fooling herself?