"I want to be a likeable female narrator. But I also enjoy being mean," writes Myriam Gurba in her poetic debut "nonfiction novel." With
(Coffee House Press), she succeeds marvelously. Drawn to the sacred and the profane alike, Gurba is so funny recounting her education in and out of the classroom that even when she's at her darkest, it's hard not to laugh. Her response after a Sunday-school teacher is caught molesting students: "I wondered if his lessons on Sodom and Gomorrah had been interactive." A self-described Molack (a mix of Mexican and Polish ethnicities), Gurba grew up gay, brown, and angry in a middle-class town in Northern California, where injustices occurred like they do in most places--often. She's a rape survivor herself, and as she veers from biting vignettes to poignant verse and back again, she shows reverence for both saints and bitches, arguing that nastiness can be more than just a defense mechanism. In a cruel world, it sometimes offers us the catharsis we need to keep going.