One thing I learned right away from Funeral for Flaca, is that we can trust Emilly Prado with the playlist. She earns this credibility with the playlist-inspired structure of the book, each chapter named after a song that represents that moment her in life. And if you feel like I feel about playlists, you know there’s an art to it: the slow build, the rise, the wrap-up. It’s the choosing of songs to cater to your audience that also represents your unique perspective. Prado does not limit herself with genre either, from the musical range of playlist-titled chapters to defying the constraints of typical memoir. Funeral for Flaca is a memoir in essays, moving from Prado’s childhood to early adulthood, focusing on the traumas, identity conflicts, and relationships that define her understanding of self.
The essays in the collection vary from flash vignettes to longer essays. Her longer essays, such as “Keep Ya Head Up,” dive into more complex expressions of her identity and the dual influences of school and family. In this essay, Prado struggles with belonging, finding her first teenage identity in the punk scene. Nostalgic for a millennial audience, she shares details such as fashion choices, changing her AIM screenname and listening to early 2000s punk music. As her interests develop, she shifts into identifying more as a chola, the descriptions of which unfold into a larger conversation about family expectations and her academics. Despite the constant push and pull of her search for belonging, music remains a constant, as she writes: “Music was there for me when people weren’t.” With the use of different tenses, Prado provides that support for herself that was missing. In certain essays, she moves from past to present tense, validating the emotions of the inner child confused and frustrated by a changing family or encouraging her teenage resilience. At times it moves future tense, from “was” to “will,” perhaps nurturing the hope that gave her the ability to keep writing, to let the kid-self see who was speaking back to them.
One of the unique aspects of this collection is the way Prado integrates childhood and family photos into her essays, giving us the opportunity to witness her young evolutions. Not only that, Prado uses the photos to analyze these moments in her life in a more direct and tangible way. She engages in direct dialogue about the photos, describing how she was feeling and contrasting her internal perception of self at the time with the person she was going to become. In the essay “So Rich, So Pretty,” Prado describes her preparation for her first high school photo, from makeup to teeth whitening. She remembers the feeling of this “New Emilly” she strived to be and what parts of her old self still echo into her choices. This description not only situates us in Prado’s own nostalgia but also gives a deeper insight to the mental health issues and perfectionism she works through. Her new self continues to battle an eating disorder, suicidal thoughts, and depression. She seeks community online that affirms these harmful thoughts when her social group changes and she faces a deep loneliness. Prado provides a necessary conversation about these issues for girls of color who often do not have the representation of themselves in the narrative of eating disorders or depression, who only see small white girls on pamphlets and websites; girls who were and are afraid to seek resources because of our cultural training. And especially important for those of us whose social education was deeply tied to the (then) new possibilities of internet forums and blogs.
Funeral for Flaca joins the punchy, edgy lineup at Future Tense Books, fitting perfectly into the small press’s legacy of “writers and books that take chances and go places where you might not expect.” Editor Kevin Sampsell writes about the press, “we’re committed to showcasing writers who are not just important and innovative, but also accessible and fun,” which Prado achieves in her structure, writer’s voice, and hard-won hope. This is an essay collection for every millennial that searched for themselves in the radio waves, for every daughter who wanted a way out while also knowing it was their job to please, for every person on the long road to healing.
Funeral for Flaca, by Emilly Prado. Portland, Oregon: Future Tense Books, July 2021. 200 pages. $14.00, paper.
Jamie Moore is the author Our Small Faces, a novella available through Doubleback Press. She is a writer, doctoral student, and professor in California. She can be found on all platforms at @mixedreader.