Book review: “This is How You Lose Her” by Junot Díaz

This empathetic understanding popularizes the work of Junot Díaz

By Gina Lopez, Arts Editor

You look for those books that stay on your nightstand. That weather the test of time and turbulence of everyday life without collecting its dust. You look for those stories you’ll always remember, the ones with the dog-eared pages and disorganized looking notes in the margins that remind you of how you felt that fitful night when you were supposed to be sleeping.

Those books, in their entirety, are hard to come by. But when you find them, they make you want to write something that universally translates to everyone you meet. That allows them the courage to feel their feelings of desperate and consuming self-loathing or self-fulfillment or loneliness or disappointment.

That very control of empathetic understanding is what popularizes the work of Junot Díaz.

In his book “This is How You Lose Her,” he details the various romantic misdemeanors, misunderstandings and downright misbehaviors one can fall victim to in relationships that either transpire at the wrong time or fail to materialize at the right one. He tells the tale of his own love stories through a lens that makes it possible to imagine yourself climbing the fractured plotlines of the characters of his life –– thus, sharing the crushing feeling in the heartbreak of lost love and everything that preludes it.

Simply put, you’d have to have the human compassion of an acorn not to feel something.

Scribbling in a copy borrowed from a friend, I was a hit with the realization that love finds its way into everyone’s life at one point or another –– and so does heartbreak. Something about this realization was immensely comforting in the same kind of way that realizing everyone has off days, everyone struggles with their own sense of self awareness and understanding. Universality really is powerful.

One of my favorite quotes from the book that has steadfastly become one of my favorite quotes of all time goes as following, “And that’s when I know it’s over. As soon as you start thinking about the beginning, it’s the end.”


Díaz establishes a relationship with the reader that feels something like those moments in TV and film when the character breaks the fourth wall in an effort to plead with the audience for some kind of profound advice.

Each page of “This is How You Lose Her” has that freeze frame, record-scratching feeling where said character would say something like “and that’s when I knew I was in deep,” or “and this is when I realized…” that feels so gutturally familiar it produces a wave of second hand embarrassment/anxiety.

These hair-raising, blood-boiling cinematic moments have always been my favorite to watch, thus the appeal of Díaz’s book comes as little surprise.

In the piece Díaz expresses an air of tasteful self-deprecation out of moments of necessity. This was one of the most appealing elements of his writing because nothing can be quite as disappointing as reading the personal narrative of someone who clearly lacks any modicum of self-respect –i.e. self-deprecation is all well and fun, and perhaps even necessary in animated writing, but too much of anything is never good.

I’m not here for your down-and-out multi-chaptered pity party. I’m here for some validation, some actualization, some shred of something that falls in the gray, in-between area of real life where you sort of hate yourself but realize you’re making emotional progress. That’s what I came for.

In the very first chapter we’re met with the confession and eventual understanding that the main character (Díaz himself) was repeatedly unfaithful to his girlfriend of the past. He says this outright. He’s willing to honestly chronicle his mistakes in the sense that he has since come to terms with them. He sees the light. Yet, he takes us on his own personal journey of misdirection until we can see it too. And that’s what I appreciate most about his writing.

Throughout the novel, Díaz nestles intensely wise phrases, like “You don’t want to let go, but you don’t want to be hurt, either. It’s not a great place to be but what can I tell you?” within his narratives, almost nonchalantly.

Even still, he never assumes that his experiences position him on any kind of moral high ground. In fact, he probably assumes more of the opposite stance. Many of the characters in the short stories within “This is How You Lose Her” chronicle the meandering way in which he’s become the person he is today.

Which is a more self-actualized, more honest, more aged human being with evolving faults. And that constant thread of honesty within his prose ­– both through the candid vernacular and refreshingly blunt dialogue – is what kept me up at night reading despite dozing lids.

Gina Lopez can be reached at [email protected].