[ARC Review] The Night Of The Virgin by Elliott Turner

The Night Of The Virgin tells the story of Emmanuel “Manny” Hernandez, a young soccer prodigy living in Texas who one day wants to become a professional soccer player. There’s one big problem, though — he’s undocumented. But his legal status will not crush his dreams entirely. One day,  he and his best friend Hector leave their lives in Texas behind and head to California to see what surprises and opportunities life has in store for them there. Over the course of the novel, we will see Manny grow from a brash young man into a loving father, but before he gets from point A to point B Manny will experience many triumphs, failures, mistakes, and regrets. 

The novel is divided into four sections. Part One and Two tell the majority of the plot and take us through years and decades of Manny’s life. Part 3 was my personal favorite, as it tells an intimate account of what happened at a party Hector hosted in which he was going to meet with Manny again after several months of not speaking to each other. Part 4 is my least favorite, as there were some issues I found difficult to overlook personally. 

I will discuss the different sections of the novel in detail.

Part One & Two:

There were many aspects of Manny’s character and story that I could relate to or sympathize with. Novels with undocumented protagonists immediately get my attention, as they are not narratives often explored in American fiction, so I was eager to read about Manny’s unique struggles and experiences as an undocumented Mexican. Elliott Turner does a good job depicting Manny’s fears and anxieties about his legal status and in Parts One and Two, we follow Manny from his teen years as a prodigy soccer player and throughout his adulthood as he seeks a professional soccer career. I won’t discuss the plot too much, but I felt the pacing was steady and the writing style clear and engaging, so I found it easy to become engrossed in reading about Manny’s trials and tribulations as well as his successes.  In short, it was a promising start to the novel!

A minor issue I had with this part was how the author glossed over how Manny’s undocumented status was “fixed.” Manny gained legal status off screen when a “President or political party had passed amnesty laws that legalized immigrants like him” (pg. 97). He couldn’t even remember what President or political party it was! This seemed a rather dismissive way to write off an issue that is very important to undocumented people. Personally, I would have preferred a more concrete and detailed account for such a momentous event in Manny’s life, as it was his legal status that eventually allows the rest of the plot to move forward. I did thoroughly enjoy Parts One and Two of the novel, but this minor issue was one I had to point out. 

 

*minor spoilers head*

Part Three

This part was the most fun to read, as it brought to life a crucial event in the story I had previously thought had been glossed over in Part One and Two. I give a spoiler warning because I must explicitly talk about Hector being gay and Part Three is entirely composed of the scene where he comes out to Manny. I think it’s important to point out that there is a gay character in this novel so that Queer readers are aware, thus I only consider this minor spoilers.

Part Three is a flashback to July 14, 2013, when Hector and his boyfriend Matt threw a party and invited Manny despite the former best friends growing apart and rarely speaking to each other. This scene was particularly fun to read because the people at the party are a diverse and colorful bunch, and the author renders them all vividly. I really got the sense that I was in the middle of this party listening to people’s conversations about politics and sexuality, and witnessing the social dynamics of Queer and heterosexual people in an intimate-party setting. This scene is not at all like the first two parts in narrative style and structure, so the change can be a bit jarring at first, but once I started reading I was hooked.

I got to know Hector more intimately in this part, which is what I wanted more of in the first half of the novel, but could not be provided as it was told through Manny’s point of view and Hector was in the closet.  In this scene, I got a better sense of what kind of man Hector was, flaws and all. I was saddened to see that Hector had internalized homophobia, which I understand is not uncommon among some Queer Latino men, but to read it on the page is always hurtful nonetheless. Despite his flaws, I found Hector to be an interesting character and wish he had a more prominent role in the story.

As a side note, I want to point out that there is some homophobic language in the novel, often coming from Manny. Sometimes it is explicitly challenged, but sometimes it is not. There is also some problematic language such as when Manny says Hector had “turned,” meaning he turned gay. This was said several times and it never sat well with me, even if it is a realistic portrayal of how straight men think. It is not until Manny is older that he realized how awful some of the things he thought about Hector were and how much he cared for his friend. This is progress for Manny, but it does not make up for accepting and understanding Hector when he needed it most.

 

Part Four (with critique)

This was my least favorite part of the novel. It is ostensibly a collection of diary entries written down during Manny’s youth, so we see his thoughts written in a stream-of-consciousness style that you will either like or not. Unfortunately, I did not like the informal style of writing, lack of punctuation, and youthful/naive voice in this section of the book. I stress that this is a personal issue I had; others may be better able to appreciate Manny’s unfiltered thoughts and youthful insights. Admittedly, some of Manny’s most profound and unique thoughts happened in this section. So I did appreciate the deep characterization that Manny got as well as they honesty with which it was portrayed.

But my major issue with this part was that it was never clear to me if every diary entry was supposed to have been written during the marked date (for example, December 2010 or July 2013) or if Manny was supposed to be recalling all these memories when he was older. This part really bugged me because I racked my brain trying to make sense of it and I shouldn’t have to work so hard to make sense of something. The style of writing indicates that Manny is young and that what we read are his diary entries, seemingly unedited, as he is too excited and caught in the moment to add punctuation sometimes. Other times he is eloquent and adds commas in all the right places. An older Manny would not speak and write in this juvenile voice, I thought to myself. But then why is Manny talking about the future/present? Often Manny will say things that make it explicit that he is speaking as his older self. For example:

“Looking back, knowing how things turn out, I can’t help but laugh at my insecurity and anxiety. Now, hoy en dia, I know that Catracha would become my first girlfriend and that we would date for years…”

Clearly, the quote above was not written in 2010, as the diary entry claims because in Part One and Two we see Manny through his adulthood, far beyond 2010. The “now” Manny is referring is not 2010. Perhaps a final version of the book (out in June 2017) will clarify this issue and indicate more explicitly whose voice we’re supposed to be hearing. But the Advance Reader’s Copy I read unfortunately did not and it affected my enjoyment of Part Four.

 

Final Thoughts

The Night Of The Virgin does not have a traditional narrative structure, jumping from past to present and back again essentially the entire time. It happens in Parts One and Two, and then again in Part 3 and repeatedly in Part Four. Initially, this non-chronological plot structure is fun and easy to follow, but then unfortunately becomes muddled in the last third of the book. In the end, the drastically different sections of the novel gave the story a disjointed feeling, rather than a smooth and flowing narrative, which I personally prefer. However, the strength of the characters and the actual content of the plot were interesting enough to make my overall reading experience positive. 

In case you were wondering, this is not an overtly religious novel. The title refers to a specific scene in the story. But in general, there few or almost no references to La Virgen de Guadalupe. Yes, Manny went to church sometimes, but the novel is not preachy, nor is it heavy handed with religious overtones. 

One final thing to note is that there is a lot of code-switching in this book, a lot of “Spanglish,” and sometimes full sentences written in Spanish with little explanation. You’ll see Spanish words or phrases in almost every page, which indicates that Spanish is an essential part of the story. While it is possible to enjoy the novel if you don’t speak Spanish, those who do (especially those familiar with Mexican Spanish and its colloquialisms) will certainly appreciate The Night Of The Virgin all the more due to the familiarity with the language. Since I am Mexican and also live in Texas, I felt intimately connected to the language, the setting, and the characters. I felt the book was written specifically for someone like me. Despite its flaws, The Night Of The Virgin is a solid debut for Elliott Turner. It may not resonate with readers across the board, but for a number of us, the authenticity of the language and experiences on the page will ring true and we will often recognize, on these very pages, aspects of ourselves or people we know . That alone makes it a worthwhile experience. 

Disclosure: I was sent a copy of this book by the author for review consideration. 


Woah, that was a long review! But I wanted to be thorough because mine will be one of the earliest reviews out for The Night Of The Virgin. The book won’t be out until June 2017, but you can add it on Goodreads now!

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37 thoughts on “[ARC Review] The Night Of The Virgin by Elliott Turner

  1. What you’ve said about the use of language (both to signal characters’ viewpoints – even when they’re problematic or offensive – and to situate readers in different perspectives with code-switching as you’ve described) really intrigues me. I can see how that might not be comfortable for every reader (and how some might not have any patience for it at all) but I appreciate the kind of creativity behind the writer’s decision to experiment with it all the same. Really enjoyed reading your thoughts on this one, Naz!

  2. Hmm, hadn’t heard of it until now, but I’m interested in reading the book. For the narrative of an undocumented person, for the Texan setting (my home for the past 14 years), and also to see if I’m able to follow along with the Spanish because my Spanish skills are a bit rusty.

    1. It’s an indie novel and it won’t release for 6 months, so I’m not surprised you haven’t heard about it. Oh, yeah you’re from Texas too! Manny is actually from the Rio Grande Valley and he goes to San Antonio for a while. There are mentions of Houston, so I thought that was pretty cool!

  3. It sounds like the author took an innovative approach to this novel, which always interests me. Maybe the publishers will read your thoughtful review and work on the last section before the final copy comes out! Great review!

  4. I really appreciate your in-depth reviews, especially since I know how long those take😁 I like the sound of this one, even if I tend towards female MCs. Glad you felt so connected to the language. I would need to look up a ton of stuff, but I see no reason why that should deter me. I know it puts White Americans at the margins for once, but US nonUS Westerners could stand to learn from this too😊
    The style definitely sounds experimental, which I often but not always enjoy. But uni made me feel stupid so often I’m no longer scared off. Definitely putting this one on my tbr.

  5. I am not gonna lie and say that the review is great because I didn’t read the full thing. My review will be coming up later this month, so I didn’t want to get biased. I read the beginning and the end and I think you liked it. I will be back after I post mine. 🙂

    1. If you like stream-of-consciousness narration, then you’ll love Manny’s voice in the last section of the book! Especially if you like tons of Spanish in your books. This book is full of it and I loved that about it. <3

      I may do a giveaway in a few months, so maybe you can win a copy early. haha

  6. “Novels with undocumented protagonists immediately get my attention, as they are not narratives often explored in American fiction…”

    I was just thinking this exact same thing while reading your introduction. I have never read an undocumented immigrants experience before! This sounds absolutely fascinating. Does it go into his journey to the United States? I didn’t see you mention his arrival, so I assume this story starts while he is already in the states? Unless it was in the spoiler section, I skipped that section.

    1. I’ve read a few books with undocumented immigrants but always want to read more. My favorite one is probably The Book Of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez. It’s a stunning novel.

      For Night Of The Virgin, yes, the story already starts when he is in the states. But we do get a flashback eventually that shows us Manny’s crossing into the country.

  7. The story of the boy playing soccer and being blocked from playing professionally resonates with me because we have many undocumented soccer players at my school. When Trump won, many were so sad and worried. They still are.

      1. It was like a death sentence hanging around the neck of my school for about three weeks before things felt even remotely normal. I’m keeping an eye on as many students as I can; there’s only about 550 students total.

  8. Wow! Thanks so much for this thorough, thoughtful review. While I’m actively looking out for books that feature the perspectives of undocumented Americans, I would be a little hesitant to pick up a book that glosses over how one’s legal status is “fixed.” This is mostly because, from the way I’ve observed those close to me negotiating their undocumented status, I’ve found that it’s a rarely uncomplicated process. Just owing to these experiences, I might end up feeling as though some sought-after nuance were missing. But if your experience was positive overall, I would certainly consider keeping an eye out for The Night of the Virgin in June!

      1. (No worries, I’ve been on Internet hibernation too. ) And yes, I’m based in the US! I hope everything works out with the potential giveaway – thanks for the heads up 🙂

  9. I requested this one for my library to buy so I can check it out. The whole Texas and illegal immigrant part really drew me in. I really hope my library can get ahold of it because I really want to read this.

  10. Glad you enjoyed the read. I did too. Now that you mention I notice I got a bit confused with the timelines but it did not affect my reading experience for me since the narrative kept going back and forth in time. However unlike you the Spanish was a downer for me.

    I am impressed that the author used different techniques of writing in different parts of the novel. That is a big step for a debut. Great review, Naz.

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