This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz – “Shockingly Familiar and Foreign All at the Same Time”

Grace Li, Editor-in-Chief

Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz  takes us through young Yunior’s struggles with heartbreak, family, and infidelity in his novel, This is How You Lose Her. Yunior, who came to live in the United States from Santo Domingo as a young child, has a distinct voice rich with wit, anger, and grief. The novel starts out innocently, going through individual relationships and their eventual pitfalls, before morphing into something much more psychologically traumatizing.

This novel switches gears quickly. The “chapters” are divided into different pieces of Yunior’s life. They can focus on his story with a girl, with his brother, or with his father. At moments it jumps through time, or even perspectives, keeping readers alert and attentive to any changes. Diaz writes This is How You Lose Her boldly, making Yunior, the narrator, refreshingly honesty. This book is not for the faint of heart, but that shouldn’t scare anyone from reading it. It moves fast. It’s truthful. It challenges you to face the stories head-on, rather than turning away.

Contrary to the title, This is How You Lose Her isn’t just about Yunior’s dates. If anything, I found the novel most engaging when it talked about Yunior’s relationship with his family, which has to brave the cruelest of fates. He always seems to be the odd one out—his hair too “African” for his father’s liking, his masculinity never matching up to his brother’s charisma, and his inadequacy always putting him as second-best in his mother’s heart. Yunior’s longing to form connections start out young when he wants to play with the neighborhood children, but his attempts are shattered by his father’s will. His isolation, even within his own home, holds you fast and close, shockingly familiar and foreign all at the same time.

Yunior’s inability to connect emerges most notably in his infidelity to the women he is in relationships with. At one point, he sleeps with fifty other girls while engaged to one. Not surprisingly, that relationship does not work out well. Yunior’s actions can make any person want to hate him. But because he is vulnerable and regretful, we find ourselves confused by what we are supposed to think. Yunior reveals to us his deepest fears of annihilation, and the all-consuming anxiety that comes with them. He shows us how much he really loved each girl he was with, and how desperate he was to try to fix his ways as he grew more and more lost.

Despite all his imperfections, it’s easy to sympathize with Yunior, because of those imperfections. He shows us guilt and shame and regret—emotions all too familiar with the human heart. People make mistakes, but people also deserve forgiveness. So do we forgive him? Is it our place to forgive?

Yunior’s complexity—his struggle between loving himself and actually finding something about himself to love—is no wonder considering his history and our own emotions about the subject. And it speaks volumes about human nature itself. It’s difficult and confusing and heartwrenching. Like This is How You Lose Her, it’s complicated, but word by word, it pulls your heart in, and doesn’t let go.