Score: 88/100 (8.8 out of 10)
Diaspora might best be described as a coming-of-age, magical-realism novel by J.P. Ozuna. The primary “magical powers” on display take the form of telepathy and teleportation.
This novel follows two friends, Camila and Gabriella (“Gaby”), practically sisters in all but blood.
Indeed, their friendship is made of steel, and their connection is practically psychic. Heck, it IS psychic. The sisters, who it turns out are related to some magical royal people from the Dominican Republic in Africa, have telepathic powers. This gives them the ability to see each other's thoughts and even communicate without verbally/physically speaking. Sweet!
However, the primary power that they discover they have is teleportation, something they attempt to take full advantage of, for better or for worse. What would you do with that power? Well, Camila and Gaby use their powers to travel to locations in Europe (and also America)! Along the way, they get into a lot of trouble and tight situations. They witness someone being kidnapped, someone being threatened with death, and even a burglary at the Vatican, one of the book's key events.
Now, here's the thing... this book is written decently, the two main protagonists are a good duo, and there's tremendous potential in playing with the idea of teleporting anywhere you want. The problem is, the pieces just don't seem to fit in this puzzle. The plot is all over the place. In fact, what is the plot?
Growing up? Coming of age? The power of friendship? Those are themes.
This book doesn't seem to have a coherent plot. Instead, it literally skips from thing to thing and place to place. It seems jumbled and discombobulated, like the instruments in a symphony are all playing at random times.
Again, the pieces are all there to craft a great story, they're just not put together very well.
Let's start with the closest thing to a plot that this book has: the two girls growing up and realizing things. Do they really grow up over the course of the book though?
Throughout the book, both girls are incredibly immature and flaky.
Even their mother-figure (the narrator) says that “Those two are like toddlers... they throw tantrums.”
Let's look at this childish dialogue that the two girls have:
“See you later, alligator”
“In a while, crocodile”
Are they like 2 years old?
Another thing about this book that absolutely had us laughing were the two love interests: Thiago and Paulo. What's hilarious about these two is that they're practically interchangeable and they always occur together for some reason, like they've been locked in a closet together until the girls or the story needs them to show up for whatever reason. The closest literary comparison we have for them is the duo of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern from Shakespeare's Hamlet--two completely interchangeable, blank-slate characters who are just... THERE. They're just two dudes who hang out being two dudes and doing stuff that two dudes would do.
Seriously! There's at least one scene when the two girls just randomly come into the room and Thiago and Paulo are just THERE waiting for them. We assumed they were playing a video game or watching a movie or something, but it is kinda weird that the two boyfriends of the main characters just happen to be waiting together at Gaby & Camila's earliest convenience. Like, do they not have lives? Do they have hobbies? Do they have other things they like to do other than to just wait on their girls? They probably do and it was probably mentioned, but it was definitely an afterthought. It is seriously hilarious how flat, two-dimensional, and unimportant Thiago and Paulo are 99.9% of the time.
The dialogue regarding the boys and girls consists of things like:
“Thank you, my love. You're hot.”
“Let's spend the night with our handsome, hot, and very sexy boyfriends”
Seriously, that's all that these two guys are for 99.9% of the book: handsome, hot, and very sexy boyfriends. They're literally treated like objects or possessions. They're just there to sit and stand around looking hot and sexy.
The only time they actually seem to be significant is when one of them decides to go to college without one of the girls, then there's this whole long-distance relationship angle/sub-plot that is supposed to show that the girl is secure enough to move on without her love. Ok... but... what about the dude who got kidnapped? The dude who was about to be murdered? What about the stuff that got stolen from the Vatican? What about Agent Jackson, the FBI agent that the girls were such needless jerks to? What about Africa, the Dominican Republic, and slavery? What happened to that whole angle? It's like this book start stuff just to swiftly drop them. Honestly, as readers of many, many books it was frustrating.
The other thing that's bizarre is that the narrator tries to shoehorn in some life/learning lessons. Then, for really no apparent reason, one of the girls goes on a tirade about how women are “our own worst enemy” and just starts ranting about the sexes—raging against men and women alike. What?! Where is this even coming from? What does this have to do with the stuff being stolen at the Vatican or the multiple violent crimes they witnessed?
Where does that fit with the whole idea that Christians were vicious too, so why should our religion be seen as less? thing that the narrator made such a big deal about in the introduction? Where does that fit with the whole thing about Africans being taken on slave ships from their homes and forced into labor? Where does that fit with the whole thing about the girls being descended from African royalty that went to war and ended up slaughtering each other? None of that quite fits what Camila is complaining about. Camila is complaining about breaking up with a boy—a boy who apparently was good to her and still loved her—and about how women act to make boys happy. How is that equivalent to people being tortured, killed, and enslaved by mostly-men in those other scenarios? It's not. It's just... one thing that was thrown at the wall with the hope of sticking, and it didn't.
It's one thing to discuss an issue in the book that is near and dear to the author's heart. That's normal. However, you need to do it in a way that makes sense in the story. A character suddenly jumping to the conclusion that men and women (about 99.7% of the human population) suck just seems so random and out of place.
It all seems so scattered, fractured, and disjointed. It's like it was written by four different people who had four different ideas of how the story should be.
The other thing that just doesn't fit at all is the whole “Episode” chapter-naming convention. It doesn't fit because 1. This isn't a TV show, and 2. If it were a TV show, each actual episode would have to end with a cliffhanger or a climax. Most of these episodes just consist of the girls doing stuff, the boys sticking around like flies stuck to fly paper; finding some trouble, getting away, being mean to authorities who are just trying to help, and then moving on to the next “international teleport.”
This book—at its core—is supposed to be fun. It IS fun, to an extent. It's supposed to be about two young adults becoming adults. It really could've appealed to a YA audience. Unfortunately, Gaby swears in at least half of her dialogue including nearly two-dozen F-bombs. It's a bummer. We're not prudish about foul language.
One of our favorite authors, Frederick Douglas Reynolds, uses about four-dozen "MFers” in all of his books. However, it fits. It fits because Frederick and his characters are cops who are caught in life-of-death situations constantly. They don't have superpowers. They don't have the ability to just wisp themselves away from trouble or danger. And some of those characters/figures in those books have drug problems and mental health issues.
Gaby has no excuse to single-handedly elevate this novel to a mature or R rating. This isn't a story or a plot with character who warrant that kind of language. If Gaby was someone who was abused or severely mistreated her whole life, then maybe we'd understand. If Gaby was a professional fighter or a veteran of a war, maybe we'd understand. If Gaby was a refugee from a war-torn country or someone who narrowly escaped a genocide, then we'd understand. But, quite frankly, Gaby and Camila both come across as brats who live relatively carefree lives. Seriously! They can go out and travel all over the world at will. They have all the freedom and power to do it. They have hot, sexy boyfriends just waiting for them to arrive like drones. Why is Gaby cussing and swearing up a storm? Why is Camila ranting and raving about how much men and women suck? It seriously does not fit the tone of the book.
If there's one saving grace, it's Agent Jackson. (By the way, it was funny that there was an Agent Smith in here, but anyway...) Agent Jackson is a real protagonist. She is the agent who is trying to get to the bottom of all of these freak crimes occurring around the world and with the girls as the common denominators. However, all of the girls/women in the book treat her like garbage, even when they know they've been lying to her and that she has every right to be suspicious. It is unfortunate because Agent Jackson is a rather heroic character who is never given her due or credit by the other characters. Our favorite moment in the book is probably when the girls wind up in her house. It's both tense and funny.
All in all, this book has potential, and you might really enjoy it.
Check it out on Amazon!