by Dia Felix

Dia Felix’s debut novel, Nochita accomplishes a voice that is at once demanding of your attention and can also be viewed as a narrative poem. Even the form, short titled chapters divided into three sections, is reflective of the poetic feel of the novel—the chapters read almost as stanzas.

Before the first section of the book even begins, though, the reader is hit by a page-long description of what seems to be a young adult describing how she searched for a deceased person’s spirit in round objects, and reveals that the spirit never came to her. The narrator states the spirit “stayed away, with her lips sewn tight, she did not rescue me, she remained very thoroughly dead. I was alive and she was not.” Here is a narrator who is angry. Here is a narrator who explains all that she did, and how all of it came to nothing. Now she is going to have to do things on her own.

Felix sets the reader up for a narrator that jumps from one thought to the next, is repetitive in some instances, at times distracted, and at others, very deeply observant of what is going on around her. Felix sets the reader up for a failed attempt to find a spirit, a ghost, a something that shows that a loved one is somehow still there. Felix teaches the reader how to read the story by exposing the reader to the emotion behind the narrator, behind Nochita’s story. She forces us to search for round objects, too. Maybe we’ll find something we have felt lost without just like Nochita. Even better, maybe we’ll find out that as much as we miss it, we will be all right. Possibly. Without this setup, though, it is not clear whether the sections, whether the chapters would hold as much weight as they do.

Felix made an important choice by showing the “future” before the beginning. By separating this untitled chapter, section, opening, from the highly organized rest of the novel, Felix is illustrating the power of suspense. Who is this narrator? Who is the spirit? How did this person die? What was the narrator’s relationship with this person? The questions keep coming. Now the challenge becomes how to answer the questions without losing the interest of the reader once these answers are provided. Felix capitalizes on the strong voice of her narrator to accomplish the sustained attention of the reader. She answers these specific questions while simultaneously asking the reader what exactly is Nochita trying to “teach us.”

The voice is everything in Nochita—the perspective of an adolescent girl is showcased through the narration’s rhythmic sentences. This first-person narrative greatly resembles a stream of consciousness, which pairs dark imagery with the immediate thoughts and reactions of a child who is encouraged by her New Age guru and celebrity mother, Kaia, to figure out the lesson of everything she encounters. As Kaia puts it: “When something is not going well, say Hello, and then ask, What are you trying to teach me? Soften to everything.” Throughout the novel, we listen to Nochita do just this—question, wonder, observe, and explore—and we find ourselves doing it as well.

After her mother suddenly dies, Nochita is forced to live with her estranged alcoholic father (who is also a cowboy) and stepmother (who is rather mean). From sleeping underneath the house or on the beach to sleeping in a shed on a pile of plastic and “furniture blankets” where she has to run around fifty times in order to warm herself up; From being the “daughter of the universe” and “teacher” of her mother to being the daughter of a cowboy and an annoyance to a “vitamin-pushing” stepmom; From being a child trying to take stock in the images surrounding her to being a teenage outsider and participant in the gathering place and home called “The Pen”; From Sacramento to San Diego and then to San Francisco, Nochita is constantly moving and doing all that she desires; she is moving out of childhood and into adolescence and meeting numerous people along the way. And throughout each journey, Nochita is constantly querying each moment for its lesson, and as the opening informs us, looking for her mother in any round object she passes along the way.

One of the categories of which Nochita falls under is a bildungsroman. Nochita is experiencing life’s spontaneous plot twists, and her outlook on these twists and turns is quite refreshing in its concurrent familiar and unfamiliar action. For instance, once she moves in with her father and stepmom, Nochita finds herself contemplating whether her new home feels right. As most children moving into a new home, Nochita is trying to discern what even constitutes a home. She goes even further in wondering whether she will turn into a cowboy like her father and the people in this complex. As she puts it, “a cowboy child of this condominium ghost town.” Nochita questions (does she belong?), wonders (is this place and the people in it normal?), observes (how these people treat her), and explores (the idea of becoming a cowboy herself).

What Felix accomplishes is a beautiful rendering of a coming-of-age story that no one has heard before but needs to, and the perspective she tells it in seems to be the only one that could capture all of the absurd and real things that occur. With a striking narration woven within short chapters, Nochita pulls the reader into her story with an ease that demonstrates Felix’s ability to create a poetic voice that simultaneously matures and does not leave the reader lost or insecure about what is actually going on.

Ultimately, what is more triumphant than Felix’s artistry is the voice it gives to those like Nochita, those that are wandering through the world, learning from the world, and running away moment by moment chasing even more of the world. Felix presents us with a protagonist that pierces us with her wisdom: “The thing to remember about suffering is how it always ends.”

–Tiffany Jimenez

Nochita cover

Dia Felix
City Lights / Sister Spit 2014
242 pp.